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Novak Djokovic rejects claims players are ‘ungrateful’ to be Australian Open amid Covid-19

Novak Djokovic has rejected claims players have been ‘ungrateful, weak, and selfish’ for complaining about a 14-day hotel room quarantine in Melbourne as the world No 1 produced an open letter to defend himself and fellow players amid heavy criticism.

Strict rules in the state of Victoria, Australia, has seen 72 players forced into a strict 14-day quarantine where they are unable to leave their hotel rooms, hampering preparations for the upcoming Australian Open. 

Djokovic, who is in far more favourable conditions 450 miles away in Adelaide, spoke up with an extraordinary list of demands to provide players with more sympathetic treatment.

Spain’s World No 13 Roberto Bautista Agut described conditions in Australia as being ‘like a jail’ while Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva has continued to post conditions on her social media as she found a second mouse in her room on Tuesday.

Novak Djokovic produced an open letter after facing criticism for his quarantine demands

Djokovic leapt to the defence of fellow players for a portrayal they have been 'ungrateful'

Djokovic leapt to the defence of fellow players for a portrayal they have been ‘ungrateful’

Djokovic called on tournament organiser Craig Tiley to soften restrictions on players in complete lockdown. He wanted to see others provided with private housing with tennis courts on site. 

It proved to be the latest PR disaster for Djokovic as he was slapped down and branded a ‘tool’ by popular Aussie Nick Kyrgios. Three times Major winner Stan Wawrinka reacted contemptuously on social media to the demands that Djokovic sent.

‘From Adelaide? Ahhahah,’ responded Wawrinka to French journalist Eric Saillot, who posted details of the missive sent by the world No 1.

Tiley urged disgruntled players not to go public with their moaning, adding: ‘If you want to have a crack, come to me, not social media.’ 

With heavy criticism being delivered in his direction, Djokovic has for the first time looked to ‘clarify’ his comments as to why he felt compelled to speak up on behalf of his fellow professionals.  

The letter began: ‘Australia, in light of recent media and social media criticism for my letter to Craig Tiley (Tournament director of the Australian Open), I would like to clarify a few things. 

‘My good intentions for my fellow competitors in Melbourne have been misconstrued as being selfish, difficult, and ungrateful. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.’

He added: ‘I genuinely care about my fellow players and I also understand very well how the world is run and who gets bigger and better and why. 

 Tennis stars have set up camp in the luxury Majestic Suites hotel ahead of the Australian Open

Tennys Sandgren was keen to show he was fighting fit by weightlifting an exercise bike

Tennys Sandgren was keen to show he was fighting fit by weightlifting an exercise bike

Aryna Sabalenka practices against the hotel window during quarantine in Melbourne

Aryna Sabalenka practices against the hotel window during quarantine in Melbourne

‘I’ve earned my privileges the hard way, and for that reason, it is very difficult for me to be a mere onlooker knowing how much every help, gesture, and good word mattered when I was small and insignificant in the world pecking order. Hence I use my position of privilege to be of service as much as I can where and when needed.’ 

The letter, which was 637 words long, also addressed the demands he produced to Tiley that were quickly knocked back. Djokovic felt the situation had been ‘misconstrued’ by fans and media.   

‘There were a few suggestions and ideas that I gathered from other players from our chat group and there was no harm intended to try and help,’ he said in defence. 

‘I was aware that the chances were low that any of our suggestions would be accepted, just like my request to quarantine with my team in Melbourne instead of Adelaide, was denied prior to our travel because of strict government regulations. 

‘Since I couldn’t be with other players in Melbourne, I made myself available to them if needed.’

Critics in Australia have questioned why Djokovic, the man responsible for last summer’s disastrous Adria Tour, had any right to give lectures on matters of Covid-19 security.

Spain¿s World No 13 Roberto Bautista Agut hit out in an interview with an Israeli news channel

Spain’s World No 13 Roberto Bautista Agut hit out in an interview with an Israeli news channel

Australian Open chief Craig Tiley urged players not to air their grievances on social media

Australian Open chief Craig Tiley urged players not to air their grievances on social media

Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews abruptly rejected all requests to ease rules around players.  

‘People are free to provide lists of demands but the answer is no,’ he said. 

‘That was very clearly laid out beforehand. So the notion that there’s been any change, the notion that people weren’t briefed — I think that argument really has no integrity whatsoever. There’s no special treatment here.’

Djokovic details in the letter that he feels a responsibility to help players lower down the rankings that are ‘small and insignificant’ in bringing about greater change.  

The World No 1 played a central role in the creation of the Professional Tennis Players’ Association (PTPA) and felt while he could ‘sit back’ and ‘enjoy his privileges’ it was unfair not to fight for those in the strictest quarantine. 

He also claimed that no player has questioned the 14-day quarantine when a number of competitors have taken to social media to question the necessity such strict measures. 

Briton Heather Watson has kept fit by running in her hotel room and exercising with a chair

Briton Heather Watson has kept fit by running in her hotel room and exercising with a chair

Several top players including Corentin Moutet and Fabio Fognini have criticised the food

Several top players including Corentin Moutet and Fabio Fognini have criticised the food 

‘I am very sorry that is has come to that because I do know how grateful many are,’ he said of fellow players. 

‘We all came to Australia to compete. Not being able to train and prepare before the tournament starts is really not easy. 

‘None of us ever questioned 14 days of quarantine despite what is being said by media outlets.’

Djokovic’s level of privilege is evidenced by his presence among a group of elite players in Adelaide at the luxury Majestic Suites.

They have been quietly told not to post pictures of their superior facilities on social media for fear of aggravating their peers in Melbourne, some of whom have had to resort to hitting balls against their hotel room window to stay sharp.   

The Australian Open begins on February 8 having been delayed due to player quarantine. 

NOVAK DJOKOVIC’S OPEN LETTER TO AUSTRALIA IN FULL 

Australia,

In light of recent media and social media criticism for my letter to Craig Tiley (Tournament director of the Australian Open), I would like to clarify a few things. 

My good intentions for my fellow competitors in Melbourne have been misconstrued as being selfish, difficult, and ungrateful. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. 

Not every act is taken at its face value and at times when I see the aftermath of things, I do tend to ask myself if I should just sit back and enjoy my benefits instead of paying attention to other people’s struggles. However, I always choose to do something and be of service despite the challenging consequences and misunderstandings. 

I genuinely care about my fellow players and I also understand very well how the world is run and who gets bigger and better and why. I’ve earned my privileges the hard way, and for that reason, it is very difficult for me to be a mere onlooker knowing how much every help, gesture, and good word mattered when I was small and insignificant in the world pecking order. Hence I use my position of privilege to be of service as much as I can where and when needed.

I have always had a very good relationship with Craig, and I respect and appreciate all the effort he puts into making the Australian Open a place to look forward to coming back to each year. 

In our email exchange I used an opportunity to brainstorm about potential improvements that could be made to the quarantine of players in Melbourne that were in full lockdown. 

There were a few suggestions and ideas that I gathered from other players from our chat group and there was no harm intended to try and help. I was aware that the chances were low that any of our suggestions would be accepted, just like my request to quarantine with my team in Melbourne instead of Adelaide, was denied prior to our travel because of strict government regulations. 

Since I couldn’t be with other players in Melbourne, I made myself available to them if needed. 

I understand that organising international sporting events during a pandemic poses health risks to the local community and to the players themselves. Therefore, I would like to express my full gratitude to Tennis Australia, the Australian government and local citizens for being willing to take this risk with us for the love of the game and the multiple opportunities it brings to the economy of the country and its people. 

We are honoured, and we will all do our best to follow the guidelines and protocols put in place. We do hope that we will be able to nurture our bodies and be ready for the mental and physical endurance and strength tests that are ahead of us once the competition starts. 

Things in the media escalated and there was a general impression that the players (including myself) are ungrateful, weak, and selfish because of their unpleasant feelings in quarantine. 

I am very sorry that is has come to that because I do know how grateful many are. We all came to Australia to compete. Not being able to train and prepare before the tournament starts is really not easy. None of us ever questioned 14 days of quarantine despite what is being said by media outlets. 

I am very much looking forward to playing in front of the people and joining the tennis frenzy and energy of the city that has always carried me towards many victories. I am also looking forward to seeing all my fellow players together in Melbourne. I am blown away by the numerous messages of gratitude and love that I have received during these past few days. 

Wishing you all health and love,

Novak 

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