Townsville Bulletin

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 state government almost certain to mandate that only fully vaccinated players can play in January’s grand slam tournament.

This is Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley’s worst nightmare, one he has feared for months.

Tiley has been in talks with the government about 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 said about 60 per cent were jabbed, including Aussie world No.1 Ash Barty.

Djokovic has remained guarded about his vaccinatio­n status, never confirming whether he has 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 Mclachlan and the MCC’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 Premier Daniel 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 will now most likely be required to be vaccinated to start pre-season training.

While national cabinet and the federal government will set rules for internatio­nal arrivals, requiremen­ts for events such as the Ashes cricket 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.

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.

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