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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Saturday June 13, 2020

Adria Tour, Belgrade

This weekend in Belgrade, large crowds are coming out to see World No.1 Novak Djokovic and others.

Photo Source: Adria

Novak Djokovic’s Adria Tour has brought together some biggest stars of the sport—think Dominic Thiem, Grigor Dimitrov, Alexander Zverev and, of course, the World No.1 himself—for a four-city tour (recently shortened to three) across the Balkans which has started this weekend in Djokovic's native Belgrade.

Tennis Express

But there’s something different about the Adria Tour, compared to all the other socially distanced, spectator-less tennis events going on around the globe at the moment: it’s packed!

Some took offense to the crowds in Belgrade yesterday as the event kicked off with a doubles exhibition and a children’s clinic. It was a shock to see.

Of course it’s no different, visually, from the protests that have been happening worldwide in the wake of George Floyd’s death on May 27th. Since then America and many other countries across the globe have taken to the streets to support #BLM and let their voices be heard.

People are getting out, for better or worse, across the globe. It had to happen. Humanity is not good at staying in forever.

But with sporting events mostly at a standstill these days, either being held without fans and under extreme safety protocols, it came as a surprise to see just how many fans there were to support the tennis in Belgrade. The event had initially sold out 1,000 tickets in seven minutes and promised to sell more. They said social distancing would be in effect, with spectators maintaining one meter distances.

Personally I expected something far different. Maybe spectators spaced out, carefully, many wearing masks...

Then the event happened and, well, just wow. It looks like the pandemic never happened—or the virus has been found in Serbia.

In truth it isn’t the case. Serbia hasn’t been hard hit by the virus, they’ve seen just over 12,000 confirmed cases and 253 deaths due to the virus. For a population of just under 9,000,000 that’s not much. But assuming the per capita numbers held, Serbia would have over 400,000 confirmed cases and over 8,000 deaths if it was the size of the United States.

Those are crude numbers, I know. I just tapped them out on my iPhone to get an idea.

It should also be noted that Serbia has flattened their curve effectively. They have had below 100 confirmed cases per day since May 22, after peaking at 445 on April 16.

The question then, is this: Are the members of the Adria Tour being careless with their approach to the virus, especially when we consider that most of the athletes will continue to travel around the globe to play at other events? Dominic Thiem will be in the South of France next weekend for the Ultimate Tennis Showdown. Much of the Adria tour will be shift sites to play in Croatia, before ending in Banja Luka (Bosnia – Herzegovina) on July 3-4.

Or are they simply taking part in an event that is being held in a relatively safe space, with confirmation from the government?

Can it be both?

We have already learned that the Montenegro event, scheduled for late June, has been cancelled due to governmental regulations due to coronavirus.

Which brings us back to the event in Belgrade. Djokovic says that Serbia’s government has different views from other nations on the subject at the moment.

"We have different circumstances and measures, so it's very difficult to think of international standards," he said. "You can also criticize us and say this is maybe dangerous, but it's not up to me to make the calls about what is right or wrong for health. We are doing what the Serbian government is telling us, and hopefully we soon will get back on tour collectively. Of course, lives have been lost and that's horrible to see, in the region and worldwide. But life goes on, and we as athletes are looking forward to competing."

It’s not only the Adria Tour that is shunning the “new normal.” There was a football event held in Belgrade that drew a crowd of 25,000 earlier in the week.

The situation is also quite similar in Prague today. Fans came out in numbers to watch the Tipsport Elite Trophy.

The Czech Republic has similar coronavirus numbers compared to Serbia. Less than 10,000 confirmed for a population of close to 10 million.

What's happening in Europe doesn’t have much to do with the current debate surrounding the US Open. Djokovic is hesitant to commit to playing the tournament in New York, not necessarily due to fears of coronavirus, but rather due to the fact that the event is planning to put in place strict safety and health measures that will significantly impact the World No.1’s preparation for the event. He’s not the only top player that feels it is perhaps a bit too much to dive into. Simona Halep, Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Rafael Nadal have all expressed similar concerns.

Whether those athletes feel the same as Djokovic, or simply don’t want to head into what has been the epicenter of the pandemic in the nation that has been hit the hardest, is not easy to decipher. Both elements appear to be at play, with one the byproduct of the other.

What can be said with certainty is that the quickest way to stop tour-level tennis in 2020 in its tracks is for one or more top players to test positive for the virus. That is why the tennis world is watching the crowded events in Belgrade and Prague with their fingers crossed. If anything goes wrong there, say goodbye to the season.

On the flipside, maybe if things go right, if the players come away unscathed, the flickering hope for a return to normalcy will return to the collective psyche of emotionally battered tennis fans around the world.

I guess at this point all we can do is flip on our livestreams and hope for the best.


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