Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic has defended his Serbian compatriot Novak Djokovic for hosting the ill-fated Adria Tour where a number of players, including the world number one, tested positive for COVID-19.

Djokovic was criticised for hosting the tennis tournament amid a pandemic after his coach Goran Ivanisevic and players Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric and Viktor Troicki 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-COVID-19 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). The country allowed everyone to do whatever they want, everything was open, the shopping centres and the restaurants,” Matic told Sky Sports.

“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 leave your home, so it was different (than England).”

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 in the Serbian capital city of Belgrade.

“When they opened they said, ‘you are more than free to do whatever you want’,” Matic added. “Before that tournament, there was a game with 20,000 people and nobody said anything about that.

“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) something wrong.”

In a Tweet below Novak Djokovic apologises:

Djokovic criticised

Nick Kyrgios, two-times Grand Slam quarter-finalist says, “Prayers up to all the players that have contracted COVID-19. Don’t @ me for anything I’ve done that has been ‘irresponsible’ or classified as ‘stupidity’ – this takes the cake,” the Australian wrote on Twitter here

Andy Murray, former world number one says, “Obviously it’s not surprising how many players have tested positive when you see the scenes and the images and the videos from the tournament and the players party with no social distancing in place,” Murray said at the ‘Battle of Brits’ tournament.

“I’ve seen some people say this puts the US Open in doubt but the measures and the protocols they have in place are completely different to what was going on in Serbia and Croatia.

“For a start, there will be no fans and the players will now know we can all be affected by this, it doesn’t matter who you are, we need to respect the rules.”

Martina Navratilova, 59-times Grand Slam champion says, “Yikes this is not good and it’s a pattern. Hope Novak will be ok of course! What now, US Open? Roland Garros? We have a lot of work to do,” she wrote on Twitter here

Patrick McEnroe, former doubles champion and commentator says, “When I sent out a tweet a couple weeks ago about that event in Serbia I said yeah it looks like a normal tennis event to me. I’m not sure everyone got my point,” he said in a video on Twitter here

“Maybe they are starting to get it now. Nothing’s foolproof so don’t be foolish. That’s my message.”

ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi says, “Obviously we feel sorry for the players. We want them to recover as soon as possible,” he told the New York Times.

“I know there has been a lot of criticism, but on the other hand, we at the ATP, the USTA, and everybody, we have to be careful because we also have to be conscious that even with extreme measures, you could actually end up having some players testing positive.

“You don’t need players and people hugging each other for someone to test positive. So we’re all running the risk.”