There are times, Novak Djokovic, when you just say nothing. You take your licks and keep quiet.
But the best tennis player in the world has exhibited judgement and communication skills clearly not world-leading this week, complaining critics of his ill-fated Adria Tour are conducting a "witch hunt" against him and condemnation he says is "very malicious".
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The Adria Tour took place recently in Djokovic's native Serbia and neighbouring Croatia, aimed at giving lesser players in the Balkans an outlet and demonstrating that tennis would overcome the Covid-19 virus.
Government guidelines suggested there was little or no risk but, as the tournament rolled on, other players and lockdown nations round the world watched and shook their collective heads. Crowds attended with no social distancing, no masks. The players whooped it up – also with no social distancing – with hugs, high fives and all manner of touchy-feely stuff. They were filmed partying, all behaving like pork chops.
The inevitable occurred. Bulgarian ace Grigor Dimitrov contracted the virus, so did fellow Serbian player Viktor Troicki and then Djokovic and his wife Jelena, among others. Cue torrents of abuse, all flowing in Djokovic's direction.
The zenith was a tweet from Nick Kyrgios, possibly the most criticised tennis player in history, who said: "Boneheaded decision to go ahead with the 'exhibition'. Speedy recovery fellas, but that's what happens when you disregard all protocols."
When Nick Kyrgios calls you boneheaded, you know your head is indeed made of bone.
That has not stopped Djokovic nursing what seems to be a well-developed case of victim status: "Lately I only see criticism, very malicious," he told the Serbian paper, Sportski Zurnal. "Obviously, there is something more than that criticism, as if there is an agenda, as if it were a witch hunt. Someone has to fall, some person, some big name, to be the main culprit for everything."
Here's the thing – make a dumb move and people let you know. End of. Murmurings that Djokovic should lose his post as president of the ATP Players' Council seem a little unfair – until you factor in that, as players' head honcho, player safety might have been more prominently in mind and on display.
In the first week of the tour – called off when Dimitrov tested positive the following week – Djokovic shrugged off criticism of the lack of social distancing: "It's hard to explain to people that the situation is really, really different maybe in America or the UK than it is in Serbia or surrounding countries, and obviously from the day one of the organisation of the Adria Tour, [we have been] following the rules and the measures that have been regulated by obviously the government institution and the public health institution.
"So it's a huge effort, a huge success, and I think it's a positive image for the sport in general, for tennis."
Yeah but nah…I mean, really nah. Later Djokovic was contrite: "Everything we did in the past month, we did it with a pure heart and sincere intentions. Our tournament was meant to unite and share a message of solidarity and compassion throughout the region."
But now the supposed victimisation has kicked in with his "witch hunt" comments – maybe damaging his popularity even more. The player most think is likely to end up as the greatest we have ever seen simply isn't liked as much as Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal. Djokovic has a better head-to-head record with both greats but his popularity doesn't match the statistics.
His family don't help. His father Srdjan, as reported in the Guardian, tried to shift the blame.
"How did the infection come about?" Djokovic Sr said on Croatian TV. "Probably because Dimitrov arrived sick, from who knows where. He was not tested in Zadar, but somewhere else. I don't think that's right. He brought great harm to you in Croatia, and to us as a family, and to Serbia."
Dimitrov's agent, Georgi Stoimenov, replied: "Grigor landed directly in Belgrade after three months of complete isolation. Neither in Belgrade [the first stop] nor later in Zadar was he offered or required to test for coronavirus. The event organisers are the ones responsible." Djokovic's mother, Dijana, told the Belgrade newspaper Blic: "It is horrible what is being written, but we are used to it."
Srjdan also recently said this about Federer: ""Why do you think he still plays at 40? Imagine that, a 40-year-old man still plays tennis when he can go home and do some more interesting things. But since both Nadal and Novak are breathing down his neck, he simply cannot accept the fact that they will be better than him. Go man, raise children, do something else, go ski, do something. Tennis is not my whole life, it is just my son's current hobby."
Federer (20 major titles) is clearly unwilling to cede the title of the Greatest Of All Time to either Djokovic (17 majors) or Nadal (19), even if that proves to be fruitless. At least he is doing so without risking the health of others.
No one doubts Djokovic's intentions were honourable and well-meaning. But when you pull a stunt that most of the rest of the world thinks is stupid – and which contains an element of "look at us; look what we're doing in our lucky country while the rest of you are in lockdown" – well, you grow a pair and lick your wounds.