Novak Djokovic has thrown his full support behind his good friend and countryman Viktor Troicki, who is facing an 18-month doping ban after refusing to provide a blood sample at the Monte Carlo Masters in April. Troicki has appealed the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and the case is scheduled to be heard next week in Lausanne, Switzerland.
“The whole case around Viktor is just very unfair toward him," Djokovic told reporters in Beijing, where he is competing in the China Open. "I believe that he’s innocent. He hasn’t been charged for being positive on any kind of substance. He was just accused of failing to provide the blood test that day.
“We grew up together," he said. "He’s one of my best friends. There is no doubt in my mind that he’s innocent."
In rallying to his friend's aid, Djokovic seemed dismissive of imposing such a harsh penalty for refusing to provide a requested blood sample.
“I don’t see why they’re keeping him suspended," he said. "For what? For failing to provide the blood test."
Troicki said he was ill on the day the blood sample was requested and that the doping control officer excused him from having to provide it. The officer and the ITF disputed his claims. If the ban is upheld, Troicki, 27, would not be eligible to return to the tour until January 2015.
Given the confusion surrounding the circumstances of Troicki's case, the ITF has already acknowledged plans to implement rule changes in 2014.
"Where a player refuses or fails to provide a sample, the doping control officer should try to offer the player an opportunity to speak to the event supervisor or referee to confirm the player's responsibilities under the program," Stuart Miller, the ITF's anti-doping manager, told CNN.
In a statement released earlier this week, Troicki said Djokovic was the first player to sign a petition demanding reform and a call for clarity for the players.
“So the reason why I was the first one to write a petition for the rule change is to try to spread the awareness to people around that obviously there is a little bit more politics involved," Djokovic said. "It’s unfortunate that it all comes down to Viktor’s case, because it shouldn’t be like that. He’s not [tested] positive for anything and he’s absolutely innocent.”
Djokovic is so optimistic about Troicki's appeal that he believes Troicki will be able to rejoin the Serbian Davis Cup team for the final against the Czech Republic in November.