Points scoring: WATCH ball boy get the better of Novak Djokovic as pair play at controversial new tournament
Novak Djokovic replaced opponent Viktor Troicki with a ball boy for three points during his self-congratulatory tennis tournament in Serbia, continuing his charm offensive after commentators voiced safety concerns about the event.
The world number one, who issued an apology after shouting in a ball boy's face during a furious row with an umpire when he beat Andy Murray in the 2015 Miami Open final, invited the youngster to replace Troicki in a stunt lauded as a "priceless moment" on social media by his Adria Tour tournament.
His cherubic opponent won the first point with a dinked winner at the net but lost his final two points, narrowly failing to capitalize on Djokovic providing serves weaker than the one that once saw him offer an apologetic hug to a ball girl he hit with one of his usual ferocious opening gambits.
Djokovic then grinned as he strolled to the other side of the court to embrace the youngster, holding his head to his chest before ushering him off court in front of a packed crowd in his homeland.
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic made a winning return from the COVID-19 enforced break only to be upstaged by a ball boy for a point 😁 pic.twitter.com/lZD3etJkfp— Sportstar (@sportstarweb) June 14, 2020
The court great received criticism at the start of the charity tournament on Friday from observers questioning the wisdom of ignoring distancing and protective equipment precautions to play matches during a pandemic that has gripped Europe and killed hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.
Although the number of confirmed deaths in Serbia as a result of the virus so far has been relatively low, sporting events in which large crowds stay in close proximity to each other for prolonged periods of time have been strongly linked to outbreaks of the potentially deadly infection.
Health officials in Djokovic's homeland are not currently enforcing a lockdown or advising people to wear masks and gloves to reduce the risk of spreading infection, contradicting the scenes taking place in many countries and at major sporting events such as football matches, where stringent safety measures have been implemented as part of a tentative return to action.
Djokovic, who has been outspoken against the concept of vaccinations and called safety restrictions being planned for the US Open "extreme", was also pictured embracing his fellow tennis stars taking part in the exhibition during an accompanying football match.
He invited a ball boy who was protecting him from rain during a break at the 2014 French Open to sit next to him while he took over umbrella duties, earning praise for his generosity alongside cynicism from some viewers who claimed he had acted for the benefit of his image, with more than 1,000 viewers giving the footage a thumbs-down vote on YouTube.
Former champion Goran Ivanisevic hit back at doubters, denying that the hugely influential Djokovic had urged fellow stars to play in this year's planned US Open despite widespread reservations over player and public safety.
“He’s honest," insisted Djokovic's coach. "I guess people have something against it right away when you’re honest. As for the US Open, Novak expresses his opinion.
"He did not tell anyone not to play. He always puts those on-duty critics in his pocket.
"He is still a good man, he still wants to help everyone. There is time for every child, for every picture, but there are always critics. He endures it with a smile. He puts the critics in his left or right pocket and that will be it."Also on rt.com 'It's shocking': Defiant Djokovic SLAMMED for IGNORING coronavirus warnings to host PACKED tennis tournament & party with stars