Sports

Serbian star facing uncertain Grand Slam future following Australia deportation


Despite coming home to a hero’s welcome in Serbia, Novak Djokovic faces an uncertain future at this year’s Grand Slam events, former Australian player Sam Groth says.

The world No.1’s eventual deportation hogged the headlines in the lead up to the year’s first Grand Slam tournament but the controversy surrounding his vaccination status is set to follow him according to Groth.

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“It’s going to be difficult, we know in France the French president is making it difficult for unvaccinated people,” Groth told Wide World of Sports’ The Morning Serve.

“New York has vaccine mandates. I think as the year goes on it’s going to get harder and harder for unvaccinated players to travel around.

“What decision Novak makes is up to him but he’s also got to understand the consequences that come with that. There’s a lot of talk about how Novak is going to play in Melbourne next year but there’s a lot more to play out until AO 2023.”

Djokovic is level with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, with all three having won a record 20 Grand Slams.

But the top-ranked men’s player could also be barred from the French Open this year, under a new law intended to exclude the unvaccinated from stadiums and other public places.

Much could change between now and the start of the Grand Slam tournament in late May, but that raised the idea that the recent saga in Australia would be not just a blip but an ongoing challenge for the athlete, who is increasingly being held up as a hero by the anti-vaccine movement.

A member of the French parliament, Christophe Castaner, said that the new law will apply to anyone who wants to play in the French Open — a reversal of earlier plans to create a “bubble” around the tournament.

“To do your job, to come for pleasure or leisure, to practice a sport, it will be necessary to present a vaccine. This will be valid for people who live in France but also for foreigners who come to our country for vacation or for a major sports competition,” Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu told BFM television on Monday.

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But some details of the law are still being hashed out — including how it will deal with people who have recently recovered from COVID-19, as Djokovic says he has.

The question is how recent the infection has to be to qualify for an exemption to vaccination rules.

Djokovic is also the defending champion at Wimbledon, which begins in late June.

But so far, England has allowed exemptions from various coronavirus regulations for visiting athletes, if they remain at their accommodation when not competing or training.

The US Tennis Association, which runs the US Open, has said it will follow government rules on vaccination status.

– with AP

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