After several days of an incredible soap opera, the sentence finally fell on Sunday. Expelled from Australia, Novak Djokovic will not defend his title at the Melbourne Open, a tournament he has won nine times. The Serb has had his appeal dismissed by the Australian Federal Court over the cancellation of his visa. A decision he could no longer contest and which put an end to several days of unprecedented suspense.
If the world number one is not on the starting line of the first Grand Slam of the season, which started on Monday, nothing says that he will be present during the second, in this case for Roland-Garros, which will take place, if all goes well, from May 16th to June 5th. So far, no particular rule has been enacted in France concerning the participation of professional athletes in competitions on the territory.
The vaccination pass applicable to professional athletes
After the announcement of the expulsion from Australia of the Serbian player, the French Tennis Federation had also expressed itself on the question through its president Gilles Moretton. “Our teams are working in collaboration with the public authorities, who will specify the rules relating to the reception of non-vaccinated foreign athletes for our tournament in due time”, declared the leader of the FFT.
The Minister Delegate for Sports Roxana Maracineanu herself mentioned on January 7 the possibility of setting up a “health bubble” allowing the participation of unvaccinated players during Roland-Garros. The presence of players refractory to any injection then seemed possible. A position that no longer holds today.
According to government sources contacted by AFP, any unvaccinated foreign athlete will probably not be able to take part in sports competitions in France. A message already hammered out by Roxana Maracineanu on Sunday evening on her Twitter account. “The vaccination pass has been adopted. As soon as the law is promulgated, it will become compulsory to enter the ERP (Establishments open to the public, editor’s note) already subject to the health pass (stadium, theater or lounge) for all spectators, practitioners, French professionals or strangers,” she said.
This would suppose that all players will have to present a complete vaccination schedule – namely two doses minimum – in order to be able to go to Roland-Garros. The idea of a health bubble already seems to be moving away. The question of an exemption regime has not been addressed to date, but it remains possible.
A dotted continuation of the season for Djokovic
Despite his expulsion from Australia, Novak Djokovic has not announced his intention to be vaccinated in the coming weeks. His absence from Porte d’Auteuil, where he is also the defending champion, therefore becomes quite hypothetical for the moment. Just like his participation in the March tour in the United States for the Indian Wells and Miami tournaments, where it is not a priori possible to go without prior vaccination. No one knows, to date, when the Serb will resume competition.
His potential absence from Paris, as he pursues his dream of being the sole record holder for the number of Grand Slam titles, is damaging to his image and his career. But it would also harm the prestige of the Parisian tournament, deprived of one of its main headliners in the company of Rafael Nadal, also in search of a 21st Grand Slam.
Like Novak Djokovic, other unvaccinated players may not step onto Parisian clay next spring if they do not receive any injections by then. This is the case of Pierre-Hugues Herbert, current 112th in the world. “I believe that I still have the right not to be vaccinated. But it is certain that I do not know for how long I will be able to hold the life that I lead today, ”declared the Alsatian in an interview at The Team January 8.
According to the ATP today, only 3% of the top 100 men in the world rankings are not vaccinated against Covid-19 today. The rest of Novak Djokovic’s season, who could lose his place as world number one at the end of the Australian Open, is therefore written in dotted lines for the moment.