Novak Djokovic’s participation in the Australian Open in January is in doubt after officials confirmed all players must be vaccinated in order to compete in the tournament.
Djokovic, a nine-time winner in Melbourne, has repeatedly refused to disclose his vaccination status and intimated he would not play if the vaccine ruling was enforced.
Tournament Director Craig Tiley said at the tournament’s official launch: “Everyone on site – the fans, the staff and the players – will need to be vaccinated in order to participate in this year’s Australian Open.
“There has been a lot of speculation around Novak’s position. He has noted and said publicly that it is a private matter. We would love to see Novak here [but] he knows he has to be vaccinated in order to play.”
Djokovic is chasing his 21st grand slam title but appears adamant that he will not bow to Melbourne’s demands.
Speaking this week at the season-ending ATP Tour finals in Turin, Djokovic insisted: “You should have the freedom to choose, to decide what you want to do. In this particular case, what you want to put in your body.”
The Australian Open went ahead this year, but players were forced to spend two weeks in hotel quarantine, crowds were restricted and a five-day snap lockdown was called mid-event.
Organisers expect it will run as scheduled in 2022 from January 17, with fully vaccinated players set to be able to enter Australia without being quarantined or confined to bio-secure bubbles.
Bumper crowds will also be permitted, with Victoria hitting 90 per cent vaccination, allowing long-standing restrictions to be swept aside, including capacity limits on sporting events.
While doubt remains over Djokovic, Tiley said Rafael Nadal will return in search of a 21st Slam crown, although fellow 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer has been ruled out with a persistent right knee injury.
Tiley said he has been assured leading women’s players Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka will play in Melbourne.
He added: “I have been on the phone with Serena in the last 48 hours and she is preparing to be here in January.”