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17 Jan, 2022 09:58

Djokovic facing fresh Grand Slam blow

Novak Djokovic could find himself sidelined for another Grand Slam with new Covid rules set to be introduced in France
Djokovic facing fresh Grand Slam blow

After his deportation from Australia, Novak Djokovic could be forced to miss another Grand Slam after French Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu signaled a vaccination pass will be mandatory for international athletes.

World number one Djokovic was deprived of the chance to defend his title in Melbourne after a federal court backed the decision by Immigration Minister Alex Hawke to cancel the unvaccinated tennis star’s visa.

Djokovic is due to arrive back in Serbia on Monday, but could now find himself barred from the second Grand Slam of the season after the French National Assembly approved the introduction of a controversial new vaccine pass which will exclude anyone who is not fully jabbed from restaurants, sports arenas and other venues.

The legislation is set to come into force in the coming days, and was backed by Sports Minister Maracineanu.

“The vaccination pass has been adopted. As soon as the law is promulgated, it will become mandatory to enter public buildings already subject to the health pass (stadium, theater or lounge) for all spectators, practitioners, French or foreign professionals,” she tweeted.

“Thank you to the sports movement for the work of conviction with the last rare unvaccinated. We will work together to preserve the competitions and to be the ambassadors of these measures at the international level.”

In a follow-up statement on Monday, the French Sports Ministry said: “As far as Roland Garros is concerned, it’s in May.

“The situation may change between now and then and we hope that it will be more favorable. So we’ll see, but clearly there’s no exemption.”

Djokovic’s unvaccinated status was the key reason in his deportation from Australia, after the government argued his continued presence in the country could incite anti-vaccine sentiments.

The Serbian star had arrived in Australia with a medical exemption based on a previous recovery from Covid in December, although that was dismissed as insufficient by the federal authorities.

Sunday’s parliamentary vote in France means Sports Minister Maracineanu appears to have been forced to backtrack on previous comments which suggested Djokovic’s vaccination status would not be an issue for his participation at the French Open.

“He would not follow the same organizational arrangements as those who are vaccinated,” Maracineanu told the FranceInfo radio station earlier this month. 

“But he will nonetheless be able to compete [at Roland Garros] because the protocols, the health bubble, allows it.”

That position now appears to be in doubt after the more stringent rules are due to be imposed.

Elsewhere, French President Emmanuel Macron vowed earlier this month to do everything he could to “piss off” the unvaccinated population. 

By being deported from Melbourne, Djokovic was denied the chance to win a record 21st Grand Slam title overall, which would have moved him one ahead of great rivals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

Nadal, 35, is among the competitors Down Under but is short on match practice after missing the end of last season with a chronic foot injury and then contracting Covid in December.

But should he remain fit and manage to find form, the Spaniard would be among the strong favorites to triumph on the clay courts of Roland-Garros – where he has already won a record 13 titles.

Nadal may have one less obstacle in his way this year if two-time French Open champion Djokovic – who won his second title in 2021 – is not afforded the opportunity to compete.