Victoria’s tough Covid vaccination rules could see top players skip the Australian Open or the tournament moved to another city.
The grand slam is set to be held in Melbourne in January with defending champion Novak Djokovic chasing a record-breaking 21st title.
But the state government will likely insist all players are vaccinated, which could see the world No.1 and three other top men’s players banned.
Novak Djokovic (pictured with his wife Jelena Ristic during the Laureus World Sports Awards 2019) is the defending Australian Open champ and has remained tight-lipped about whether he has received a Covid vaccine and is unlikely to agree to 14-days quarantine in Australia
Djokovic would be chasing his 21st Grand Slam title in Melbourne which would see him surpass Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer (pictured in 2021 in Melbourne)
Djokovic earlier this year declined to comment when directly asked if he’d been jabbed but in April 2020 said ‘personally I’m opposed to vaccination, and I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel’.
Russian world number two Daniil Medvedev – who tested positive for Covid-19 in April – made similar comments when he said in February: ‘Personally, I will not be vaccinated for medical reasons related to vaccines’.
Third and fourth ranked players Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev have both expressed hesitancy to get a Covid shot, with Zverev saying the issue had ‘become too political for my taste’.
Some top 10 woman’s players also expressed hesitancy including Ukranian Elina Svitolina and world No.2 Aryna Sabalenka – who tested positive for Covid-19 over the weekend at the Indian Wells tournament.
Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley has been warning for months that some star players would be absent from the Australian Open should a vaccine mandate be brought in.
If Djokovic wins his 21st Grand Slam he would surpass both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal – and Tiley desperately wants that moment to happen in Australia.
Djokovic held his Adria tour in 2020 as the official ATP tour stalled which resulted in a number of players and staff testing positive to Covid
Greek star Stefanos Tsitsipas (pictured) would also be a likely no-show for the Australian Open should a vaccine mandate be brought in
While tennis and cricket players avoided large-scale worker vaccine rules from the Andrews Government, discussions about a separate mandate for the Australian Open are underway.
Tiley along with AFL boss Gillon McLaughlin, Melbourne Cricket Ground chief executive Stuart Fox, and government representatives have been holding meetings about how Covid-safe sports events would be handled.
The group of sports bosses also quickly agreed that spectators and customer service workers at sporting events need to be fully vaccinated to attend.
Despite Tiley’s objections over international players, Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton will likely only let those fully vaccinated attend the tournament.
‘Tiley said we won’t get star players and the state government effectively said ‘suck it up [and] they capitulated,’ a source with direct knowledge of the negotiations told The Age.
The Australian Open went ahead in Melbourne in January 2021 – before the delta strain arrived in the country – thanks to players enduring a 14-day quarantine.
This is something players said they wouldn’t agree to at the 2022 event – leading to the question of whether the grand slam could be moved to another city entirely.
With some players critical of last year’s quarantine conditions – Djokovic chief among them – there were reports the event could be moved to Doha or Dubai to keep players happy.
‘We are the only country where quarantine is required. We’ve got a find a way to manage that and we will,’ Tiley said in May.
The other glittering jewel in Melbourne’s sporting crown – the AFL Grand Final – was moved to Perth this year to avoid a Covid lockdown.
And Brisbane – the home of the country’s second biggest tennis tournament the Brisbane International – hosted this year’s NRL Grand Final on Sunday.
A similar prospect would surely seem more attractive to Tiley than the tournament going offshore.
Crowds at the Australian Open in January will need to be fully-jabbed to attend (pictured: Rod Laver Arena at Melbourne Park during the 2021 Australian Open)
Fans who want to watch the southern hemisphere’s biggest tennis event first-hand will have to be double jabbed to get through the gates (pictured: spectators at the 2021 Australian Open)
However, in another hurdle, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews questioned whether Djokovic would even be allowed a visa to enter Australia without being vaccinated.
Mr Andrews on Sunday dodged questions about whether the Australian Open vaccine mandate would definitely happen, but said Djokovic may not get a visa.
‘[Tennis grand slam] titles won’t protect you either. The only title that will protect you is you being able to have had your first dose and second dose,’ he said.
‘Logic tells me and numerous conversations with the Prime Minister… tells me that if you are an Australian citizen, you will be allowed home if you haven’t had the jab.
‘But if you’re coming on a tourist visa or a business visa, so you’re not an Aussie, like, you are coming to visit, the notion of you getting in here without being vaccinated, I thinks very, very low.’
Tennis’s top level governing bodies the ATP and WTA have no rule in place requiring compulsory vaccines for players – leaving that requirement to individual tournaments.
Novak Djokovic (pictured with his wife Jelena Ristic in 2019) would be chasing his record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title in Melbourne in 2022
In September as the US Open was underway, the ATP estimated about half of male players had been vaccinated for Covid-19 while the WTA said their figure was a little higher at about 60 per cent of female players.
Both sporting bodies said they recommended the vaccine for players but would not make a jab mandatory.
‘While we respect everyone’s right to free choice, we also believe that each player has a role to play in helping the wider group achieve a safe level of immunity,’ the ATP said in a statement.
‘Doing so will allow us to ease restrictions on-site for the benefit of everyone on Tour.’
At the US Open, the same rules did not apply for spectators – who weren’t allowed through the gates unless they could show they were fully vaccinated.
Top tennis stars on the tour are divided over the jab. Retired British star Andy Murray said vaccination was needed to ‘look out for the wider public’.
Australia’s top player Ash Barty was one of the first on tour immunised back in April under an early vaccination push by the WTA.
Djokovic who has already won the event nine-times could be banned from playing if a vaccine mandate is brought in (pictured at the 2021 Australian Open in front of minimal attendees)
But others such as Australian Open semi-finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas are resistant.
The 23-year-old caused an uproar in his home country of Greece when he declared he would only get the jab if it was made compulsory to compete.
And German Alexander Zverev was pictured partying in Monaco just days after being swept up in Novak Djokovic’s Adria Tour debacle in 2020.
The event held as the official tour stalled, led to Djokovic, his wife, three more players, and other members of their various entourage to test positive to coronavirus following a stint at a Belgrade nightclub.
Britain’s Andy Murray (pictured with wife Kim Murray) is pro-vaccine saying the wider community needed to be protected
‘I have just received the news that my team and I have tested negative for Covid-19,’ Zverev posted in 2020.
‘I deeply apologise to anyone that I have potentially put at risk by playing this tour. I will proceed to follow the self-isolating guidelines advised by our doctors. As an added precaution, my team and I will continue with regular testing.
‘I wish everyone who has tested positive a speedy recovery. Stay safe.’
A furious Nick Kyrgios took the 22-year-old to task on Instagram over the nightclub photos.
‘So I wake up and I see more controversial things happening all over the world, but one that stuck out for me was seeing Zverev again man, again, again, how selfish can you be? How selfish can you be?’ he said.
Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas (pictured in Boston last month) previously caused a stir when he said he would not get a Covid vaccine unless the ATP made them mandatory