(By Dusan Stojanovic, AP)

Top-ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic announced on Tuesday that he and his wife tested positive for the coronavirus after he played in a series of exhibition matches he organised in Serbia and Croatia with zero social distancing amid the pandemic

Raising questions about the full-fledged return of tennis, including the U.S. Open planned for August, Djokovic is the fourth player to come down with COVID-19 after participating in matches held in Belgrade and Zadar, Croatia.

The others were three-time Grand Slam semi-finalist Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric and Viktor Troicki.

“We believed the tournament met all health protocols and the health of our region seemed in good condition to finally unite people for philanthropic reasons,” Djokovic said in a post on social media on Tuesday. “We were wrong and it was too soon.”

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The rest of his Adria Tour, which was supposed to head to Bosnia next, was called off.

“Unfortunately, this virus is still present, and it is a new reality that we are still learning to cope and live with. I am hoping things will ease with time so we can all resume our lives the way they were,” Djokovic said in a statement released earlier. “I am extremely sorry for each individual case of infection. I hope that it will not complicate anyone’s health situation and that everyone will be fine.”

FILE – In this Friday June 12, 2020 file photo Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, second left, poses with Germany’s Alexander Zverev, left, Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov, second right, and Austria’s Dominic Thiem after a press conference prior a a charity tournament Adria Tour, in Belgrade, Serbia. Novak Djokovic has tested positive for the coronavirus after taking part in a tennis exhibition series he organized in Serbia and Croatia. Grigor Dimitrov, a three-time Grand Slam semifinalist from Bulgaria, said Sunday he tested positive. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Djokovic, who stands third in the history of men’s tennis with 17 Grand Slam singles titles, has been in the news frequently in connection with the COVID-19 outbreak, which led to the suspension of the ATP and WTA professional tennis tours in March. Plans were announced last week for the sport’s sanctioned events to return in August.

Criticised for stance on vaccine

In April, the player who has won five of the past seven Grand Slam tournaments and is 18-0 this year, was criticised for saying he would not want to take a vaccine for the virus in order to be able to compete, even if it were mandatory for travel.

In May, when he was staying in Spain, Djokovic broke local lockdown rules by practicing at a tennis club about a week before it was allowed.

More recently, he complained about the U.S. Tennis Association’s plans to try to protect people from the virus during the U.S. Open with such measures as limiting the size of players’ entourages, going so far as to say he didn’t know whether he would go to the tournament in New York.

The U.S. Open is scheduled to begin 31 August, without spectators, and the French Open — postponed from May — is supposed to start 27 September.

“This situation is exactly why we have created a comprehensive health and medical plan with the input of our Medical Advisory Group, as well as other experts, that was approved by New York State,” the USTA said in a statement on Tuesday that wished the ill players well. “The creation of a controlled U.S. Open environment, including official hotels, transportation, food, medical and safety protocols, enables us to mitigate potential risk, and appropriately respond to any issues.”

Djokovic found himself defending the lax arrangements

Djokovic found himself defending the lax arrangements of his exhibitions, which were meant to raise money to help those affected by the pandemic. The stands were packed, and players casually interacted with fans and each other off the court. Djokovic and other players were seen hugging each other and partying in night clubs and restaurants.

After Dimitrov said he tested positive over the weekend, the final of the competition in Croatia — in which Djokovic was supposed to play — was cancelled.

Djokovic, who is not showing symptoms of COVID-19, said he will remain in self-isolation for 14 days

“It was all born with a philanthropic idea, to direct all raised funds towards people in need and it warmed my heart to see how everybody strongly responded to this,” Djokovic said. “We organised the tournament at the moment when the virus has weakened, believing that the conditions for hosting the Tour had been met.”

Both countries eased their lockdowns ahead of elections held in Serbia last Sunday and scheduled for 5 July in Croatia, and much of Balkans is experiencing a spike in new COVID-19 cases since the strictest measures were lifted.

Opposition in Croatia has questioned whether the vote in Croatia should go ahead and whether Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and his government should self-isolate after he briefly met with Djokovic in Zadar.

FILE – In this Monday, Feb. 18, 2019 file photo Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic and his wife Jelena arrive for the 2019 Laureus World Sports Awards. Novak Djokovic has tested positive for the coronavirus after taking part in a tennis exhibition series he organized in Serbia and Croatia. The top-ranked Serb is the fourth player to test positive for the virus after first playing in Belgrade and then again last weekend in Zadar, Croatia. His wife also tested positive. (AP Photo/Claude Paris, File)
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Author: ANA Newswire