BELGRADE: An emotional Novak Djokovic could not hold back the tears while hosting a charity event at his tennis complex by the Danube River on Sunday.
Although the world number one missed out on Sunday’s Adria Tour final, in which Dominic Thiem beat Serbian Filip Krajinovic 4-3 2-4 4-2, the event revived a lot of fond memories for the 17-time Grand Slam champion who staged the exhibition while international tennis remains suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was very emotional on the court today. Childhood memories started flooding back, including those of growing up on these courts and playing here as a young boy,” the 33-year-old told reporters after being cheered on by a 4,000-strong capacity crowd.
“I was overwhelmed and those were tears of joy after the match. “I try to give back to where I come from and be conscious of my childhood and my upbringing. This tennis was an epicentre of people from my childhood days getting together for this tournament, including my former coaches. They were all here.”
Djokovic beat Germany’s Alexander Zverev on Sunday in his last round robin match but failed to secure his place in the final after both players and Krajinovic ended up with 2-1 win-loss records and an identical 5-3 set difference in their section.
Krajinovic, who stunned Djokovic on Saturday, squeezed through on the basis of having the best games differential among the three.
However, he was powerless to stop Thiem in the final. “This tournament was for a good cause and we all gave our best,” Thiem said after finishing off the weekend with a 100% winning record.
“Many high quality matches in a great atmosphere, in front of a full crowd, so it was a perfect weekend.
“A very big thank you to everyone including Novak and his team, you all made my first trip to Serbia a very special one.”
The eight-man tournament featured a more streamlined format than what is seen on the main tour, with sets slashed to best-of-seven games.
The second leg of the tour will be held in Croatia’s coastal resort Zadar next weekend. The third leg due in Montenegro on June 27 and 28 was scrapped on Saturday over coronavirus concerns and the final leg is set for Bosnia’s Banja Luka on July 3 and 4.
Meanwhile, with new rules and new formats, Patrick Mouratoglou, the coach of Serena Williams, unveiled his Ultimate Tennis Showdown tournament in the south of France on Sunday.
Targeting a younger audience, the players were alloted nicknames such as the ‘Sniper, ‘Underdog’, ‘Rebel’ and ‘Artist’ and its ambitious host hopes he can launch a parallel circuit to the ATP.
Whether it catches on or not remains to be seen but the ‘Sniper’, better known as Australia’s Alexei Popyrin, went down as the first match winner beating the ‘Underdog’ Elliot Benchetrit, the world 208.
The matches pan out very differently to the way tennis is traditionally scored, with four quarters, noisy countdowns, time-outs, and even bonus cards to prolong a service game.
Even the commentators are visible on a mini-screen. There will be 50 matches in total over five weekends of tennis where every player faces each other before a round-robin final of six.
Although he was absent this weekend, world number three Dominic Thiem is the highest-ranked player.
Stefanos Tsitsipas, Matteo Berrettini and David Goffin, who are all in the world top 10, are also involved.
Dustin Brown, dubbed the ‘Artist’ for his serve-and-volley style, also featured at the weekend. The tournament package is sold over the internet and organisers are hoping to sign up 50,000 subscribers, paying between 10 and 12 euros to watch the action.
There is also potential income from paying fans, but Sunday’s action took place behind closed doors due to the coronavirus restrictions. — Agencies