MELBOURNE (Reuters) – World number one Novak Djokovic on Wednesday hit back at criticism of his letter to Australian Open chief Craig Tiley in which he suggested easing of quarantine restrictions, saying his good intentions were “misconstrued”.
As many as 72 players are confined to their hotel rooms for 14 days and unable to train for the Feb. 8-21 Australian Open after passengers on three charter flights carrying them to Melbourne tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Djokovic reportedly asked for reduced isolation periods and having players in hard quarantine moved to “private houses with tennis courts”, drawing a backlash from Australians.
Tiley confirmed they were suggestions and not demands.
“My good intentions for my fellow competitors in Melbourne have been misconstrued as being selfish, difficult and ungrateful,” the Serbian, who is isolating in Adelaide along with other top players, said in a lengthy statement.
“This couldn’t be farther from the truth.
“… 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.”
Tennis coach Daniel Vallverdu told Reuters that players in hard quarantine should get preferential treatment from organisers such as prime practice times and matches scheduled in the cooler hours of the day.
Djokovic, who last year quit as the ATP Players Council chief to launch a breakaway players body, won a record eighth Australian Open title in Melbourne in 2020.
Former Australian Davis Cup player Sam Groth accused Djokovic’s letter as a “selfish political move” while Nick Kyrgios called the Serbian a “tool”.
Djokovic said he “genuinely” cared about fellow players.
“I’ve earned my privileges the hard way … it is very difficult for me to be a mere onlooker knowing how much every help, gesture, and good word mattered to me when I was small and insignificant in the world pecking order,” he said.
“Hence, I use my position of privilege to be of service as much as I can where and when needed.”
Djokovic also expressed gratitude towards organisers TA, the Australian government and the citizens to allow the players to compete amid the pandemic.
“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,” he added.
“I am very sorry that it 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.”
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; Editing by Ken Ferris and Christian Radnedge)