The criticism of Novak Djokovic for hosting the Adria Tour during the coronavirus pandemic was "beyond belief", says Eurosport pundit Boris Becker.
The world number one was slammed for fronting the event in Serbia, which welcomed spectators before ending in farce as multiple players – including Djokovic – caught Covid-19.
'Amazing intensity' - Nadal v Shapovalov preview ahead of Australian Open quarter-final
Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric and Viktor Troicki also tested positive after the Croatian leg of the event, leading to the cancellation of the Balkan-hopping series.
The players came in for further rebuke after footage circulated of them dancing in a nightclub, but Djokovic claimed the overall criticism was malicious and tantamount to a witch-hunt.
"I don't understand the criticism," Becker, who coached Djokovic between 2013 and 2016, told Eurosport.
"He was hosting the tournament in his native country where the rules and law were different in Great Britain and Germany. If it wouldn't have been allowed then there couldn't have been a match, right?
"On top of that he was raising money for the needy, it wasn't for prize money. Whatever they made he would give back to people that needed it more than him. That was honourable.
Daniil Medvedev: My idol? I always wanted to be myself
"What was a mistake was certainly the party and players letting loose. Those are 20, 25, 30-year-old people, they had a loose night. Yes they always should be role models, they should always be perfect every single day of the year, but they weren't that night.
"For all of the players to be criticised as harshly as they were is something beyond belief. Yes six got infected, I think they paid the highest price. They had to quarantine, that was a penalty enough, but the principle of this tour was right and I never understood the criticism.
"In hindsight you are always smarter, but at this point we should move on. I'm happy that tennis is back, I'm happy the boys are playing in New York. I think that's a priority, whatever happened in July we are all smarter now than we were then."
CHANGING OF THE GUARD?
Djokovic is targeting a fourth US Open title and will begin his quest against Bosnia's Damir Dzumhur.
He can move to within two Grand Slam titles of the men’s singles record should he triumph in New York, with rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal skipping the tournament.
But Becker says that despite the lack of obvious competition, this is not Djokovic’s trophy to lose.
"He hasn't played well in the last couple of Opens," he said.
His tournament is always the Australian Open, everything else is the icing on the cake. He starts the year wanting to win Melbourne and then whatever comes next is great.
"He hasn't played as well, it's new for him, it's strange for him to play in front of an empty stadium. He feeds off the energy whether they're for or against him. He likes to play in front of people so I don't think it's an advantage at all."
There have been suggestions that the 2020 US Open champions should have an asterisk next to their names due to the absence of a host of star players, including defending champions Nadal and Bianca Andreescu.
But Becker echoed the views of American legend Martina Navratilova by saying the tournament would not be devalued.
"No, I think the winner has to win seven matches. It's tough," Becker continued.
It's interesting, maybe we're going to see a couple of new faces in the second week. That's good for tennis. We've talked a long time about the changing of the guard, and maybe Covid-19 will be responsible for that. That's the good thing, but on the other hand I do miss Roger, Rafa, but each to their own.
'BE PATIENT WITH MURRAY'
The US Open also marks Andy Murray’s return to Grand Slam action for the first time since the 2019 Australian Open.
The 2012 champion has only played fleetingly on the ATP Tour, but claimed the scalp of world number seven Alexander Zverev at the Western & Southern Open – his first win over a top 10 player since 2017.
Murray is a wildcard at Flushing Meadows but avoided the major seeds to earn a first-round clash with Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka.
Canadian 15th seed Felix Auger-Aliassime could await in the second round before a possible all-British tie with Dan Evans, but Becker insists there is little expectation on the 33-year-old to have a run in New York.
"I think there is a sigh of relief that he's physically fit and playing good tennis," said Becker.
"Obviously, New York, best of five sets is harder, but there are days off in between matches. First and foremost he is as fit as he is going to be coming into a Grand Slam and I think that's good news.
"I think in this moment we have to be patient with Andy and go match by match. When he is fit and healthy he is still a world-class player, but he has to prove it.
"He has to take each match as it comes - so do we. I don't think there is any expectations. It is mainly to finish a match healthy, maybe win it, and then start the next match healthy."
Andy Murray urges Lionel Messi to prove himself in the Premier League
'Rafa had it right' - Djokovic 'not bigger' than 'great success' Aus Open says politician
'I get goosebumps when I watch him' - Wilander in awe of Nadal after epic tie-breaker