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TENNIS

Djokovic: which Grand Slams can the world number one still play at?

After being denied a run at his 21st Grand Slam in Australia, unvaccinated world number one Novak Djokovic will target Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open.

Update:
Novak Djokovic reacts while playing Taylor Fritz of the US during their men's singles match on day five of the 2021 Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne
WILLIAM WESTAFP

Novak Djokovic boarded a flight from Melbourne to Dubai on Sunday after the Federal Court of Australia unanimously ruled to uphold Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s decision to revoke the world number one’s visa. Djokovic had entered the country on the basis of a medical exemption in order to defend his title at the Australian while also seeking to become the first male player in the history of the sport to win 21 Grand Slams, taking him one ahead of Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer in their three-way tussle. However, it later emerged that Djokovic did not meet the requirements for entry into Australia laid out in the exemption regulations and had his visa revoked. After initially being granted a reprieve by a judge, Hawke took the decision to use his authority to cancel the visa again, citing fears that allowing Djokovic to remain could stoke “civil unrest” and lead to a rise in “anti-vaccination sentiment.”

Roland Garros, France open to door for number one

As the Serb continues his bid to become the most successful player in the history of the sport – only Steffi Graf (22), Serena Williams (23) and Margaret Court (24) have more major titles than Djokovic – he will be forced to make a tricky decision regarding his vaccination status. The world number one is a leading proponent of the right to choose whether or not to receive the jab but the 34-year-old may be obliged to rethink his stance, or to seek further legal loopholes, to play the three remaining slams at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open this year.

As things stand, the French Open is available to the unvaccinated Serb. France has no intention of demanding foreign athletes competing in international sports events provide evidence of vaccination. Minister of Sport Roxana Maracineanu confirmed last Friday that Djokovic “can take part in the competition because the protocol, the health bubble in place at these sporting events, permits it.”

“In France, we do not have the same regulations as Australia to enter the country,” Maracineanu told France Info. “This applies to sportspeople and to everyone else.” In order to enter France from another European country a certificate of vaccination, proof of having contracted covid and recovered or a negative PCR test are required.

France is planning to introduce legislation that will require people to present proof of vaccination to access sports facilities of any kind, to be applied to the public and professional athletes who are training and competing in France, regardless of their nationality. “However,” added Maracineanu, for international tournaments “there are obligatory protocols imposed by the federations,” which will allow for unvaccinated foreign athletes to enter the country to participate in international tournaments.

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Djokovic to face issues at Wimbledon and the US Open

While the world number one’s place in the draw at Roland Garros therefore seems assured as things stand, Wimbledon and the US Open are a very different matter.

Djokovic will be prevented from competing at Flushing Meadows due to US Customs and Border Protection regulations stating that a certificate of full vaccination is required to enter the country. That would also prevent Djokovic from playing at some of the biggest Masters events of the season at Miami, Cincinnati and Indian Wells.

Wimbledon remains a possibility for the number one: he will be able to enter the UK despite being unvaccinated if he spends 10 days in quarantine and does two PCR tests during that time. If these are returned negative, Djokovic will be free to compete at Wimbledon but the number one will need to allow plenty of time for preparation ahead of the grass court slam, particularly if he intends to compete at Queen’s or another warm-up event.

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