Djokovic and other unvaccinated stars allowed to compete at Wimbledon
LONDON (AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS) - Unlike at the Australian Open, Novak Djokovic will be free to defend his Wimbledon title after the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club (AELTC) on Tuesday (April 26) confirmed proof of Covid-19 vaccination would not be necessary in order to compete at this year's grass-court Grand Slam, scheduled for June 27-July 10.
Organisers also said there would be no plans for any virus countermeasures affecting crowd size as compared to the past two editions.
Tournament chiefs added Wimbledon was left with "no viable alternative" to banning Russian and Belarusian players from this year's Championships.
The unilateral move was made last week in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, meaning stars such as men's world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev, Aryna Sabalenka and Victoria Azarenka cannot play at the third Slam of the year. The decision has since been criticised by the ATP, which runs the men's tour, and women's tour organisers the WTA.
Rublev has called the decision "complete discrimination", as did Djokovic, who felt it was "crazy".
But AELTC chairman Ian Hewitt has defended the move on Tuesday, saying the decision was made taking into account British government guidance.
"We have considered at length the options available," he said.
"These are in effect two options - declining entries or allowing entries but only with specific declarations (against the invasion of Ukraine) from individual players.
"We considered a wide variety of factors. After lengthy and careful consideration, we came to two firm conclusions. First, even if we were to accept entries (from Russian and Belarusian players) with written declarations, we would risk their success or participation being used to benefit the propaganda machine of the Russian regime, which we could not accept.
"Second, we have a duty to ensure no actions should put players or their families at risk... We believe we have made the most responsible decision possible. We believe there is no viable alternative in this truly exceptional and tragic situation."
As the Slams are autonomous, possible sanctions by the ATP and the WTA, whose official stance is to continue to allow Russian and Belarusian players to compete, excluding team events, as neutrals, could include a refusal to award ranking points.
That could reduce Wimbledon to the status of a high-profile exhibition event.
On that possibility, AELTC chief executive Sally Bolton said: "We won't be speculating on what may or may not happen in the future.
Bolton also revealed that discussions are ongoing with the British government regarding the attendance of Russian coaches and tennis officials, but confirmed Russian media outlets will be banned.
Meanwhile, Swiss great Roger Federer, who hasn't played competitively since last year's Wimbledon, is set to return to the ATP circuit at the Basel indoor tournament in October, organisers said.
Federer underwent two knee operations in 2020 and returned to the Tour last year, but had another knee surgery after Wimbledon that forced him to miss the second half of the season.
In February, Federer confirmed his plans to team up with Spaniard Rafael Nadal at the Laver Cup in London in September.
The Swiss Indoors tournament will return to the calendar for the first time since 2019 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and is scheduled to take place between Oct 24-30. Federer is a record 10-time winner in Basel and will return as the reigning champion at the event, where he has not lost since 2013.