Australian Open: Djokovic warns stars 'don't want to go ahead with season' if quarantines persist

By Sports Desk February 16, 2021

Novak Djokovic has claimed the "majority" of tennis players are opposed to playing on tour this season if quarantining before tournaments becomes the norm.

The world number one made his stunning claim after reaching the Australian Open semi-finals with a four-set win over Alexander Zverev, moving a step closer to a ninth title at the event.

Djokovic is battling an abdominal injury and he pointed to problems that have affected the likes of Rafael Nadal, Matteo Berrettini and Grigor Dimitrov during their time in Australia.

He stressed that being locked down in hotel rooms as they were in Australia - in some cases being strictly confined for 14 days - was "definitely not good" for the physical health of players.

He is proposing, casually for now, that tennis considers a bubble system whereby one venue stages a string of tournaments, meaning players would not have to travel from country to country and each time need to abide by different COVID-19 rules.

"I don't want to sit here and complain about what we have been through, but we have to be honest and realistic that it has an effect on the physical well-being of players. Of course also mental, emotional, but physically this is not normal," Djokovic said.

"We are hoping that it's temporary. But talking to a lot of players, the majority of the players just don't want to go ahead with the season if we are going to have to quarantine most of the tournaments.

"So this is something that should be discussed, as of now."

Djokovic is a former president of the ATP player council, resigning before last year's US Open to lead the breakaway Professional Tennis Players Association.

The 17-time major winner may be a divisive figure to some, but he is determined to be involved in the big decisions.

He said he had held conversations with members of the player council, who in turn had spoken to ATP management.

"I'm waiting for some answers. I want to understand how our continuation of the season post-Australia is going to look like, because this definitely is not good for players in terms of their well-being," the 33-year-old Serbian said.

He said players had turned out for the Australian Open because of the large prize money on offer, tolerating the fortnight in quarantine because of the subsequent rewards, but said prize money cuts at other tournaments would make many think twice.

There have been "a lot of complaints" from lower-ranked players, Djokovic said.

"We have to find a way, whether it's something like an NBA bubble, because I heard some players talk about that, and I don't mind to discuss about that kind of idea," Djokovic said, referring to last season's NBA bubble at Walt Disney World, Florida, where the basketball season was able to be completed.

"Select one place and we play all the tournaments on that surface and that place. Three, four weeks in, three, four, two, three weeks' rest, then back again. Something like that."

Djokovic offered no suggestion players would consider skipping the grand slams that remain in 2021 - the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open.

But he said: "We also have to be realistic that what we are experiencing here in Australia is far better than what most of Europe is going through in terms of restrictions and rules and regulations and quarantines, et cetera.

"And most of the season will continue on in Europe, actually."

He says players can cope with being away from family, if rules are implemented to mean player entourages must be small, but hotel room quarantines are another matter.

"I have been hearing that there are some countries that don't want to accept people coming in from some specific countries because of the virus strains, different virus strains, so forth, and transmission, and God knows what," Djokovic said.

"I don't know how we're gonna handle with that, honestly. But we have to address this very quickly, I mean, because the season already started."

Djokovic, meanwhile, moves on to a clash with qualifier Aslan Karatsev, the 27-year-old Russian revelation of the tournament.

It took an explosion of anger from Djokovic, when trailing 3-1 in the third set against Zverev, to give him the spur to see off the German.

He smashed a racket so hard it left debris on the court that a ball girl was summoned to sweep up.

Djokovic said: "Of course I'm not proud of these kind of moments. To me it happens and then today it actually helped, even though I don't intentionally do it in order for it to help me. I just kind of let it go. Poor racket."

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