Novak Djokovic risks being frozen out of tennis as he chases a record 21st Grand Slam title, with rules on travelers who are unvaccinated against COVID-19 tightening in the third year of the pandemic and some tournaments reconsidering exemptions.
The Serbian, who has not been vaccinated, was deported from Australia on Sunday ahead of the Australian Open after losing a court case to have the cancellation of his visa overturned.
Under Australian law, Djokovic cannot get another visa for three years – denying him the chance to add to his nine titles at Melbourne Park – but the government has left the door open for a possible return next year.
The world number one, however, faces more immediate hurdles in his bid to overtake Swiss Roger Federer and Spaniard Rafael Nadal, with whom he is tied on 20 major titles, as he could be barred from the French Open as things stand.
The French Sports Ministry said on Monday there would be no exemption from a new vaccine pass law approved on Sunday, which requires people to have vaccination certificates to enter public places such as restaurants, cafes and cinemas.
“This will apply to everyone who is a spectator or a professional sportsperson. And this until further notice,” the ministry said.
“As far as Roland-Garros is concerned, it’s in May. The situation may change between now and then and we hope it’ll be more favorable. So we’ll see but clearly there’s no exemption.”
The ministry’s stance was welcomed by Germany’s world number three Alexander Zverev.
“At least it’s clear what’s going to happen,” he told reporters after winning his opening match at Melbourne Park on Monday. “At least they’re saying, ‘OK, no unvaccinated players are allowed to play in the French Open.’
“We know that now in advance, and I can imagine there’s not going to be any exemptions, and that’s OK.”
The next tournament on Djokovic’s calendar is likely to be the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, February 21-26.
A spokesperson for the event told Reuters that all players would need to provide negative PCR tests before being allowed into the United Arab Emirates.
“(Players) will then need to adhere to the testing protocols and processes stipulated by the ATP and the WTA,” the spokesperson added.
Organizers of the Monte Carlo Masters, which Djokovic has won twice, are awaiting French government guidelines for the next edition in April, while Wimbledon organizers AELTC are also yet to finalize safety arrangements for the major.
However, England’s Lawn Tennis Association said entry requirements for its events, some of which serve as Wimbledon warm-ups, would be determined by the government.
Currently, unvaccinated people can enter England but must isolate for 10 days.
A U.S. Open representative said last week that the year’s final major would follow New York City Department of Health guidelines.
Djokovic could have trouble getting into the United States, because foreign air travelers have had to be fully vaccinated since November and provide proof before boarding flights, with limited exceptions.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said there are no exceptions for vaccine requirements “for religious reasons or other moral convictions.”
That rule could also affect Djokovic’s participation in U.S. hardcourt tournaments at Indian Wells and Miami in March.
The Serbian, who is among three ATP players in the top 100 yet to be vaccinated, could also face issues ahead of the Italian Open in Rome in May due to tough COVID restrictions in Italy.
Madrid Mayor Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida told La Sexta TV station on Monday that it would “be great” to have Djokovic play in the April 26-May 8 Madrid Open, which he has won three times, though the government would be the arbiter.
Spain requires visitors to prove they have been vaccinated, had a recent negative test or have immunity based on recovery.