PLAYERS TIRE OF SAGA
The controversy has overshadowed the traditional build-up to the Grand Slam event, and players were tiring of the saga.
“Honestly I’m little bit tired of the situation because I just believe that it’s important to talk about our sport, about tennis,” Spaniard Rafa Nadal, who is tied on 20 major titles with Djokovic, told reporters at Melbourne Park, where the event will be played.
German Alexander Zverev, the world number three, said Djokovic had been treated unfairly and that the Serb might have been used as a political pawn by Australian authorities, something Canberra has denied.
Djokovic’s medical exemption from vaccine requirements to play the Open prompted enormous anger in Australia, which has undergone some of the world’s toughest COVID-19 lockdowns and where more than 90 per cent of adults are vaccinated, but hospitalisation rates continue to hit record highs.
With global scientists and policymakers focused on vaccinating as many people as possible to end the pandemic, the refusal of Djokovic to get the jab has fuelled the anti-vaccination movement, especially in his native Serbia and surrounding countries.
The controversy over the tennis player has become a political touchstone for Prime Minister Scott Morrison as he prepares for an election due by May.
His government has won support at home for its tough stance on border security during the pandemic, but it has faced criticism for its handling of Djokovic’s visa application.
Djokovic, scheduled to play fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovi in the first round of the Open, is hunting a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title. But instead of hitting Rod Laver Arena on Monday, he could be deported on a flight out of Melbourne.
He has the option of withdrawing and leaving Australia of his own accord.
“Australian Open is much more important than any player,” said Nadal, whom Djokovic considers his greatest rival on a tennis court.
“If he’s playing finally, okay. If he’s not playing, Australian Open will be great … with or without him.”