Novak Djokovic’s quest to finish his career with the most Grand Slam titles remains under a cloud.
World No 1 Djokovic missed the defence of his Australian Open title last month as he was not vaccinated. In his first interview since the tournament, he has said that he is willing to miss more majors rather than be forced to get a Covid-19 jab.
Djokovic says he is not “anti-vaxx”, but that the “principles of decision making on my body are more important than any title or anything else”.
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The revelation throws into doubt whether Djokovic will challenge for another Grand Slam title and even what tournaments he will be able to play on the tennis calendar.
Can Djokovic play the French Open?
Asked if he would sacrifice taking part in Wimbledon and the French Open over his vaccine stance, Djokovic said: “Yes, that is the price that I'm willing to pay.”
That presents an immediate problem for the next Grand Slam of the season, as in France a vaccine passport is currently needed to gain access to certain venues and areas.
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France's sports minister Roxana Maracineanu said last month that professional athletes who want to compete in the country will have to be vaccinated, with no exemptions.
"Athletes have a role to play in helping convince non-vaccinated people into the vaccine programme as soon as possible," said Maracineanu.
France is currently easing Covid-19 restrictions and the rules might have changed by the time the French Open rolls around in three months. Indeed, there were reports in January that proof of infection in the past six months would suffice - if so, Djokovic would be fine as his infection was on December 16.
However, updates to French regulations issued on February 15 now appear to indicate that a four-month cut-off is in force, which would leave Djokovic in trouble
Djokovic was granted a medical exemption to play at the Australian Open, only for it to be ruled that he should be deported to prevent “anti-vaxx sentiment” building in the country.
Christophe Castaner, head of French president Emmanuel Macron’s ruling LREM party group in the country’s National Assembly, said recently that as it stands Djokovic defending his French Open title unvaccinated was “out of the question”.
The French Open is Djokovic’s next opportunity to draw level with Rafael Nadal on 21 Grand Slam titles after the Spaniard won the Australian Open to move ahead of Djokovic and Roger Federer in the all-time standings.
Can Djokovic play Wimbledon?
The United Kingdom is set to do away with almost all Covid-19 regulations by the end of February.
The current rules state that arrivals into the country who are not fully vaccinated will only need to take a pre-departure PCR test and then another test on or before day two in the UK.
So Djokovic should have no problem getting to Wimbledon.
Novak Djokovic won the men's title at Wimbledon 2021
Image credit: Getty Images
Players were kept in a bubble at last year’s Wimbledon and were regularly tested. However, they were not required to be vaccinated.
Djokovic is the only player in the ATP top 100 not to be vaccinated after Tennys Sandgren, who also has not had the vaccine, dropped down the rankings.
Speaking on Tuesday, Tim Henman, who is on the All England Club committee, said he expected no problems for Djokovic.
"I don’t think so," Henman told BBC Radio 4. "To get into the UK at the moment, those are the guidelines the Championship will be following at this stage.
"At this moment in time it is going to be government-led."
What about the US Open and other tournaments?
Here’s where things look trickier for Djokovic.
As it stands, travellers to the United States must be fully vaccinated with “limited exceptions”. Those exemptions include valid medical reasons for not getting vaccinated and needing to travel for emergency or humanitarian reasons.
If Djokovic cannot get into the US he will be unable to play a significant chunk of the calendar.
There are the first ATP 1000 events of the season coming up in Indian Wells and Miami next month – and Djokovic is on the entry list for the former – and the North America swing before the US Open starts in September.
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Djokovic is set to play his first tournament of the year next week in Dubai, where there is not a requirement to be vaccinated.
He could lose the world No 1 ranking to Daniil Medvedev by the end of the month and will almost certainly lose it soon if he is not able to travel to most of the tournaments on tour.
After the Miami Open comes the clay season, starting with the Monte Carlo Masters on April 10.
Tournament director Zeljko Franulovic said recently that he is uncertain if the 34-year-old will be able to participate.
“If he meets the health requirements of the French government, we will be happy to host him," said Franulovic.
“He has to be in order. For the moment, as far as I know, he is not vaccinated. As soon as he is in good health with respect to government regulations, we will welcome him with open arms."
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