Djokovic unwilling to commit to Australian Open amid vaccine requirements

By Sports Desk October 31, 2021

Novak Djokovic is unwilling to commit to January's Australian Open as the defending champion awaits confirmation on travel and entry requirements amid Victoria's vaccine mandate.

The state of Victoria, where the year's opening grand slam takes place at Melbourne Park, has introduced a vaccine mandate for professional athletes and across most industries due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 2021 Australian Open went ahead, albeit in February instead of January, and without fans for most of the tournament following a snap lockdown of Melbourne due to COVID-19.

Last week, Australia prime minister Scott Morrison said unvaccinated players would be allowed to contest the slam if they completed two weeks in quarantine, though Victoria premier Dan Andrews dismissed those comments, insisting athletes would not be granted access unless they received the COVID-19 vaccine.

A record nine-time Australian Open champion, world number one Djokovic remains non-committal over his looming title defence.

"Well, I'm going to decide on whether I go to Australia or not after I see the official statement from Tennis Australia," Djokovic said as he prepares for the Paris Masters – his first tournament since losing to Daniil Medvedev in September's US Open final.

"Right now, we don't have any official announcement or statement. So until that's out, I won't be talking about this anymore, because I don't want to be part of the stories about the assumptions and what-ifs.

"When official condition requirements to travel to Australia and play in Australia are out, then obviously I'll see what I personally do with that, and also the bigger group of the players, you know, because the situation is obviously different in Australia than most parts of the world."

World number two Medvedev also refused to confirm his Australian Open participation.

"I always said it, that I really like Novak's answer about this. I want to keep my medical, no matter if it's about vaccine, leg injury, head injury... I want to keep my medical private for a reason," Medvedev said.

"I feel like tennis is such a brutal sport where you're always one on one against your opponent, and any information you give him can go against you.

"If you're playing Australia, it's obvious you're vaccinated. So that's why I said I'm willing to play Australia, but I won't say if you'll see me there, but we're going to see in January."

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    Taylor Fritz believes there would be no "harm" in Novak Djokovic competing at the US Open, although the American admits he is conflicted about whether he should be allowed.

    Wimbledon champion Djokovic has his route to Flushing Meadows blocked by red tape at present, with the United States refusing to allow unvaccinated foreign visitors to enter the country.

    US tennis authorities have pledged to adhere to government rulings surrounding COVID-19 protocols, despite including Djokovic on their entry list.

    For Djokovic to be allowed into the United States, it appears he would require a change of policy from law-makers, or he would have to be considered suitable for an exemption.

    Among those who would be eligible for such an exemption are "persons whose entry would be in the national interest".

    With 21 grand slam titles, Djokovic sits second on the men's all-time list behind Rafael Nadal, who has 22 victories at the majors. 

    And Fritz, ranked 13th in the world, said that while the situation is complicated, there is part of him that thinks Djokovic should be allowed to take part in the competition that starts in under a fortnight.

    "It's tough," he said. "I think on one side of it, I think it's tough to make certain exceptions to the rules for certain people.

    "I don't know how I feel about that, but then, at the same time, we're not the most COVID-safe country in general with how we are doing things.

    "So it does seem like, what's the harm of letting the best player in the world come play the US Open?

    "But like I said, at the same time, it's conflicting, because I don't know how I feel about making special exceptions just for one person because of who they are.

    "So I see both sides of the argument, to be honest. It's tough to differentiate, obviously. It's good for every player if Novak is not in the draw."

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