By SAMUEL PETREQUIN – AP Sports Writer
Novak Djokovic will be able to play at the French Open even if he is not vaccinated against COVID-19, as long as the coronavirus situation in France remains stable, organizers said on Wednesday.
Russian tennis players, including top-ranked Daniil Medvedev, will also be able to play in the tournament, but as neutral athletes due to the war started by their country in neighboring Ukraine.
Organizers said at the moment there is nothing to stop Djokovic from defending his Grand Slam title on clay. France this week lifted measures mandating the need to wear face masks in most settings and allowing people who are not vaccinated to return to restaurants, sports stadiums and other venues.
“At this stage there is nothing to stop him from returning to the courts,” French Open director Amelie Mauresmo told a news conference.
Djokovic was deported from Australia in January after a legal battle over whether he should be allowed to enter the country, forcing him to miss the Australian Open. He told the BBC last month that he, too, was willing to miss upcoming Grand Slams if they required him to be vaccinated.
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Djokovic has won the French Open twice and has a total of 20 major titles, one short of the record held by Rafael Nadal after the Spaniard won this year’s Australian Open.
French tennis federation president Gilles Moretton said that while Djokovic can now play freely, French authorities could be forced to introduce new restrictions if the virus situation deteriorates before the tournament starts on May 22.
“It’s not up to us,” Moretton said. “Today there is a small virus that is going around. We’re pretty sure the lights are green, but we’re all cautious about what’s happened in the last two years.”
Asked if Russian tennis players will be able to compete in the tournament in light of the war in Ukraine, organizers said they plan to stick to decisions that ban Russia and Belarus but allow their players to compete as neutral athletes.
The seven groups that run the sport around the world have condemned the war; canceled events in Russia and Belarus; kicked those two nations out of the Billie Jean King Cup and Davis Cup team competitions; and announced on March 1 that players from those countries will be able to compete in WTA, ATP and Grand Slam tournaments, but not under the name or flag of Russia or Belarus.
“We hold to this line,” said Amelie Oudea-Castera, director general of the French tennis federation.
Other sports, including athletics, soccer and figure skating, have banned Russian and Belarusian athletes from competition.
Wimbledon organizers are in talks with the British government over whether Russian players should be able to compete in the grass-court tournament this year if they don’t distance themselves from President Vladimir Putin.
Oudea-Castera said that the French organizers do not plan to start a detailed and individualized analysis of the individual situations of the players, which “may depend extraordinarily on the family situations experienced by each of them.”
Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, the day Medvedev made sure to rise to the top of the ATP rankings for the first time while competing at the Mexican Open.
“Seeing the news from home, waking up here in Mexico, was not easy,” Medvedev said then. “As a tennis player, I want to promote peace throughout the world. We play in so many different countries; I have been to so many countries as a junior and as a professional. It’s just not easy to hear all this news. … I am for peace.”
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