A fight is looming between some of the world’s leading tennis players and authorities over the prospect of mandatory vaccination at this summer’s Australian Open.
Three-time major winner Andy Murray, a supporter of COVID-19 vaccination “to look out for the wider public”, has indicated players who willingly get vaccinated would receive more freedom of movement in Australia, conceding that “a lot of the tour is not vaccinated”.
Andy Murray reacts after scoring a point against Stefanos Tsitsipas in their US Open clash.Credit:AP
World No.1 Novak Djokovic, chasing the grand slam in New York, has repeated his view that vaccination should be a personal decision. “I hope that it stays that way,” Djokovic said on the eve of the US Open, which made a late switch to require spectators to show proof of vaccination.
Roland-Garros runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas has also said he’ll wait until vaccination is mandatory for players before committing to his first jab.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley.Credit:Tennis Australia
Both tours, the ATP and WTA, have encouraged their members to get vaccinated. The ATP tour has indicated that just above 50 per cent of male players are vaccinated, a similar figure for the WTA, which said it has a goal of raising numbers “in excess of 85 per cent by the end of the year”.
Tennis Australia has yet to categorically outline the quarantine requirements for players heading down under – including compulsory vaccination. TA is continuing to work with health officials about the rules for January’s Australian Open.
“As far as vaccinations (go), we’re hoping as a nation that we’ll be at the target of 80 per cent-plus by the time we get to November, and that will certainly help the situation for the event in January,” Australian Open boss Craig Tiley said.
“There’s a lot of time between now and when we get going, but at this point of time we’re planning on having a bubble, a two-week bubble, where the players will be able to move freely between the hotel and the courts.
“Previously we had quarantine, but now we’re looking at more of a bubble-type scenario.”
But five-time Australian Open runner-up Murray has tipped some “pretty long, hard conversations” to happen between players and officialdom.
“Over the next few months things are going to probably end up changing quite a bit,” Murray said.
“I know the conversations with regards to the Australian Open and stuff are already happening. The players that have been vaccinated are going to potentially be able to … well, they’re going to be having very different conditions to players who are not vaccinated.
“I can see it’s going to become an issue over the coming months. If tournaments are going to go ahead and be held like the Aussie Open – a lot of the tour is not vaccinated – but for them to go ahead and host it, they’re going to be … allowing the players that have had the vaccination to train and move freely between the hotel and stuff, potentially not having to quarantine and things like that.”
However, experienced tennis administrator Peter Johnston said criticism directed at players can sometimes be unfair, as they travel regularly between tournaments with different rules and are consistently required to be tested for COVID-19.
Players can also be wary about short-term side effects from vaccination impacting their performance and also have a preference to have both first and second doses of a vaccine in the same location, he said.
Novak Djokovic was fired up during his semi-final against Alexander Zverev at the Tokyo OlympicsCredit:AP
“It [the difficulties for players] can be brushed over [too easily],” said Johnston, a former tour executive.
“They are vigorous testing systems [that are used at different tournaments] and the results come back quickly.”
Greek 23-year-old Tsitsipas has reservations about agreeing to a COVID-19 vaccination.
“No one has told me anything. No one has made it a mandatory thing to be vaccinated,” Tsitsipas said ahead of the US Open.
“At some point I will have to, I’m pretty sure about it, but so far it hasn’t been mandatory to compete, so I haven’t done it, no.”
Djokovic has yet to reveal his vaccination status. He was among of host of tennis pros to test positive for COVID-19 last year.
“I’m not in a position, neither am I an expert, to debate what is the reason why we don’t have everywhere full capacity [for sporting events], whether vaccines will help that or not,” Djokovic said.
“I feel like that should be always a personal decision, whether you want to get vaccinated or not. So I’m supportive of that [having a personal choice].
“Whether someone wants to get a vaccine or not, that’s completely up to them. I hope that it stays that way.”
While the juxtaposition of non-vaccinated players competing in front of fans who must have been vaccinated has been highlighted, US Open officials said decisions were driven by local health officials.
“The USTA [United States Tennis Association] was informed that the New York City mayor’s office will be mandating proof of COVID-19 vaccination for entrance to Arthur Ashe Stadium during the US Open,” the tournament said in a statement.
“Given the continuing evolution of the Delta variant and in keeping with our intention to put the health and safety of our fans first, the USTA will extend the mayor’s requirement to all US Open ticket holders 12 years old and older.”
Former US Open champion Murray endorsed vaccination as a way for globetrotting players to “look out for everyone”.
“Even here in New York, you’ve got the situation with gyms and stuff, [and the] need to be vaccinated. Eating in restaurants and things, [you] obviously have to be vaccinated,” he said.
“I feel like I’m enjoying kind of a fairly normal life, whereas for the players that haven’t, it’s different. I’m sure they’ll be frustrated with that.
“The reason why all of us are getting vaccinated is to look out for the wider public. We have a responsibility as players that are travelling across the world, yeah, to look out for everyone else as well.
“I’m happy that I’m vaccinated. I’m hoping that more players choose to have it in the coming months.”
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