Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, left, celebrates with Jelena Jankovic after a doubles match during the Adria Tour charity tournament, in Belgrade, Serbia. Djokovic said he considers criticism against him for organizing the tournament to be a witch hunt. Darko Vojinovic/Associated Press


Novak Djokovic said Tuesday he’s being unfairly targeted for organizing an unsanctioned tennis tournament last month in Europe, one in which he, his wife, his fitness coach, three other players and another player’s trainer all tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

“I can only see criticism lately and much of it is malicious,” Djokovic, the world’s No. 1 men’s player, told Serbian newspaper Sportski Zurnal, as translated by Insider. “It’s obviously more than just criticism. It’s like an agenda and a witch hunt are on.”

Basic safety protocols established during the pandemic were not followed at the tournament. Players answered questions in close quarters at a news conference, with neither the stars nor reporters wearing masks. On the court, the players shook hands and draped arms over one another after matches, and they were spotted partying shirtless at nightclubs.

Djokovic seems to think his fame is the reason he’s been the subject of so much criticism.

“Someone has to take the fall, a big name, to be the main culprit for everything,” he said. “I leave it to others to say if that is fair. I don’t think it is. I think that we must learn from all of this and to adapt as we go along.”

World No. 3 Dominic Thiem, who played in the tournament but tested negative for the coronavirus, defended Djokovic on Tuesday.

“He didn’t commit a crime,” Thiem said. “We all made mistakes, but I don’t understand all the criticism. I’ve been to Nice and also saw pictures from other cities. It’s no different from Belgrade during the tournament. It’s too cheap to shoot at Djokovic now.”

Fellow player Nick Kyrgios, who was not at the event, has kept up a steady drumbeat of criticism about the tournament and the players who attended. Thiem fired back at him Tuesday, saying the sometimes-hotheaded Australian “did a lot of mistakes himself. It would be better for him to come clean instead of criticizing others.”

To which Kyrgios basically said: Hogwash.

“What are you talking about @ThiemDomi?” Kyrgios wrote on Twitter. “Mistakes like smashing rackets? Swearing? Tanking a few matches here or there? Which everyone does? None of you have the intellectual level to even understand where I’m coming from. I’m trying to hold them accountable.”

Kyrgios also has been critical of world No. 7 Alexander Zverev, who did not test positive at Djokovic’s tournament but pledged to self-isolate for 14 days after the event, a promise he broke when he was spotted dancing at a crowded Monte Carlo club.

As for the U.S. Open, which is scheduled to begin without fans Aug. 31 in New York, Djokovic still is debating whether to show up.

“I still haven’t decided whether I will play in the U.S. Open. The upsurge in registered COVID-19 cases in the United States and New York in particular are not playing into the event’s hands,” he said.

For what it’s worth, New York City’s seven-day average positive test rate Tuesday stood at 1.2%, well below the national U.S. average of 8%.

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