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December 2, 2021

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Djokovic not being ‘blackmailed’ with Australian vaccine mandate

Novak Djokovic is not being “blackmailed” by Australian Open organizers, a senior official said yesterday, insisting a requirement for players to be vaccinated was about safety.

The 34-year-old world No. 1 would be bidding for a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title in Melbourne in January, but he has refused to say if he has been jabbed against the novel coronavirus.

His father Srdjan told Serbian television on Sunday his son “probably won’t” play the opening Grand Slam of the year over the mandatory inoculation rules.

“Of course he would want to go with all his heart,” he said.

“But I really don’t know if that will happen. Probably not under these conditions, with this blackmail and when it’s done that way.”

Martin Pakula, sports minister in Victoria — the state where the Australian Open is held — said he was keen for the nine-time champion to defend his title.

But he told reporters: “If you’re a visiting international tennis player or a visiting sportsman of any kind, it’s about your responsibility to the community that you are being welcomed into.

“And that’s why we are asking those international tennis stars to follow the same requirements as Victorians are.

“It’s not about blackmail, it’s about making sure the Victorian community is protected.”

Tournament chief Craig Tiley made clear last month that all players must be inoculated and there would be no concessions.

The Australian Open went ahead this year but players were forced to spend two weeks in hotel quarantine, crowds were restricted and a five-day snap lockdown was called mid-event.

Organizers expect it will run as scheduled in 2022 from January 17.

They have said fully vaccinated players can enter Australia without being quarantined or confined to bio-secure bubbles, although that scenario could be complicated by the emergence of the new Omicron coronavirus variant.

Djokovic has won nine Melbourne Park titles, including this year’s tournament, and shares the record of 20 men’s Grand Slams with Swiss great Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal of Spain.

Meanwhile, Britain’s Johanna Konta announced her retirement yesterday, saying: “I just ran out of steam.”

The 30-year-old Konta reached a high in the rankings of No. 4 and was a four-time title winner on the WTA.

In 2017, she became the first British woman to reach the Wimbledon semifinals in 39 years. She was also a semifinalist at the Australian Open (2016) and French Open (2019).

Konta made her announcement on social media, saying she was grateful to have been able “to live my dreams.”

In an interview on the WTA’s website, Konta said she didn’t have the energy to put in the hard work to stay at the top of the sport. “For me, it’s just about putting my emotional, mental, physical well-being in the position to put that energy and work in to be able to do that,” Konta said. “It’s that link of being able to convince yourself to be in pain. I just ran out of steam for it.”

In her own statement, Konta said “all the evidence pointed towards me not ‘making’ it in this profession.”

“However my luck materialized in the people that came into my life and impacted my existence in ways that transcended tennis,” she wrote. “I am so incredibly grateful for these people. You know who you are.”

The Australia-born Konta ended the year ranked 113th and played her last tour match at the Cincinnati Open in August, suffering a first-round loss to Czech Karolina Muchova.

“Johanna’s accomplished tennis career has thrilled fans in Britain and around the world,” Women’s Tennis Association chairman Steve Simon said.

“We wish her nothing but great happiness and success as she embarks on what I am sure will be a very exciting next chapter of her life.”


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