BELGRADE • Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic has defended his Serbian compatriot Novak Djokovic for hosting the ill-fated Adria Tour where a number of tennis players, including the world No. 1, tested positive for Covid-19.
Djokovic, 33, was criticised for hosting the exhibition tournament last month amid the coronavirus pandemic, after his coach Goran Ivanisevic and players Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric and Viktor Troicki also returned positive tests over the two legs in Serbia and Croatia.
Players were seen interacting, embracing each other, playing basketball and partying like they did in pre-coronavirus days but Matic said they were not required to adhere to any social distancing norms as Serbia had eased restrictions.
"People need to understand that the situation in Serbia was better than here (in England)," he told Sky Sports on Monday.
"The country allowed everyone to do whatever they want, everything was open, the shopping centres and the restaurants.
"So they started to live normal lives because our country was closed for three months completely. You were not allowed to walk on the street, you couldn't even leave your home."
While some unofficial tournaments have been played without spectators in the stands, such as the Battle of the Brits exhibition tournament in London, the Adria Tour attracted a capacity crowd of 4,000 in the Serbian capital Belgrade.
The Balkan state has since reported a fresh surge after shedding its lockdown measures, logging more than 200 cases daily recently, compared to around 50 last month.
"When they opened they said, 'you are more than free to do whatever you want'," Matic added.
"I just wanted to say that it is not his fault that he made the tournament, he just wanted to help the players play competitions. I don't see that he (did) wrong."
It was not the first time that Matic has publicly backed his countryman. In an open letter to the local media last week, he said the 17-time Grand Slam winner was the "cat" who will chase away the "mice".
HE MEANT WELL
I just wanted to say that it is not his fault that he made the tournament, he just wanted to help the players play competitions.
NEMANJA MATIC, Man United midfielder, on his fellow Serb's good intentions after most coronavirus curbs were removed.
The 31-year-old said: "Mice came out of the hole and gave themselves the right to criticise the world No. 1, in tennis but also how he relates to all other people in the world.
"But I don't care. Very soon the cat (Djokovic) will be on the court, and the mice in the hole.
"The only thing for which I resent Novak is that he apologises to the mice who criticise him for no reason. No, Nole. They will apologise to you - soon."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE