Djoker facing needle match
NOVAK Djokovic has won epic battles at the Australian Open but he’s about to come up against his hardest opponent yet.
And it is a fight the world No.1 is unlikely to win.
Djokovic’s anti-vaccination stance is set to be put to the test with the Victorian government almost certain to mandate that only fully vaccinated players can play in January’s grand slam tournament.
For Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley, this is his worst nightmare and one he had been fearing for months.
Tiley has been in talks with the government about the potential ramifications should there be a mandate rule.
There are several vaccinehesitant players led by Djokovic and including the two men who sit behind him in the world rankings Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas. Top 10 women players Elina Svitolina and Aryna Sabalenka have said they are also worried about vaccines.
To this point the ATP men’s tour and the women’s WTA have stayed away from calling for mandatory vaccines.
Last month the ATP estimated 50 per cent of its players were vaccinated while the WTA estimated about 60 per cent with world No.1 Ash Barty one of those.
Djokovic has remained guarded about his vaccination status, never confirming whether he had had a jab.
“I feel like that should always be a personal decision, whether you want to get vaccinated or not. So I’m supportive of that,” he previously stated.
“So whether someone wants to get a vaccine or not, that’s completely up to them. I hope that it stays that way.”
Tiley was part of meetings to plan for Covid-safe sport along with AFL boss Gillon McLaughlin and the MCG’s Stuart Fox where it was quickly agreed jabs should be mandatory for public-facing staff and spectators.
What it meant for participants was a matter of debate before Victorian Premier Dan Andrews made it obvious on Friday, announcing that 1.25 million “authorised workers” had to have two Covid-19 shots by the end of November.
Included were professional athletes, which immediately impacted the AFL, whose players would now most likely be required to be vaccinated to start pre-season training.
While the national cabinet and the Commonwealth will set rules for international arrivals, requirements for events such as the Ashes tour and Australian Open will fall to state public health officers.
Given Victoria’s hard-line stance, Tiley’s hopes of a quarantine avenue for participation by vaccine-hesitant players seems unlikely.
The players have said they will not quarantine for 14 days as they did for this year’s Open.
Could the Open be shifted to a more “friendly” state with looser requirements?
It would be a dramatic move but Tiley knows how important the event is given what Djokovic is about to do.
The 34-year-old will be shooting for a 10th Australian Open crown and his 21st career grand slam title that would elevate him past Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Tiley is desperate for that historic moment to happen in January but he needs a change of heart from someone and it will not be the Premier.