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Novak Djokovic, Stefanos Tsitsipas At Center Of Raging U.S. Open Vaccination Debate

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at August 30, 2021

On Friday, veteran French tennis player Gilles Simon was forced to withdraw from the U.S. Open after his coach, Etienne Laforgue, tested positive for Covid-19.

Simon, who previously said he wouldn’t get vaccinated because he “wasn’t scared” of Covid himself, did not test positive but was deemed to be in close contact with his coach and thus was excused from the tournament, which ironically could have been his last U.S. Open appearance.

With the U.S. Open beginning Monday at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, several big-name men’s players including Novak Djokovic, who is seeking to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win the Grand Slam, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Sascha Zverev and Andrey Rublev have either expressed concerns about getting vaccinated — or in Djokovic’s case, said that it is a “personal decision whether you want to get vaccinated or not,” adding that “whether someone wants to get a vaccine or not, that’s completely up to them.” Djokovic has previously tested positive for Covid.

On the women’s side, No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus and No. 5 Elina Svitolina of Ukraine have expressed reservations about getting the jab.

While fans above the age of 12 must prove they have had at least one shot in order to gain entry to the U.S. Open, players and their team members do not need to be vaccinated to take part. The players were tested upon arrival and will be tested every three days during the tournament.

So what happens if a big-name player who is unvaccinated — or someone in his or her inner circle — tests positive during the fortnight, perhaps even before the semifinals or final? They would be forced out of the tournament just like Simon was.

“The vaccination status of a player does have an impact on close contact,” U.S. Open spokesman Chris Widmaier said Monday by phone. “If a member of a player’s entourage — coach, physio, whatever it is — tests positive and the player is vaccinated, the player will not be withdrawn and will be under the testing protocol. And if any symptoms or a positive test results, of course they would be withdrawn.

“A non-vaccinated player who is in close contact with someone who tests positive will fall under the Covid protocols and will be withdrawn.”

An ATP spokesman said Saturday that just above 50% of male players are vaccinated and the men’s tour “continues to strongly recommend vaccination to players,” per the Associated Press. The WTA said “nearly 50 percent” of its players were vaccinated.

ESPN tennis analyst Patrick McEnroe pointed out that the risks are higher for unvaccinated players as opposed to those who are vaccinated.

“The risks of a close contact for the unvaccinated player are much greater than for the vaccinated player,” McEnroe, expanding on a topic he broached on his “Holding Court” podcast, said Monday by phone.

McEnroe pointed out that Djokovic does not have one of his coaches, Goran Ivanišević at the Open, but he does have another coach, Marian Vajda, plus his trainer and his physio.

“Those are the three guys that are always with him,” McEnroe said.

Tsitsipas has said he is wary of getting vaccinated and will only do so if it becomes mandatory to compete on the ATP Tour. His coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, told Jennifer Williams of Fox that it is a matter of personal “freedom.”

Medvedev, the U.S. Open runner-up in 2019, has expressed a “pro-choice” stance with respect to vaccination. He had also said he wouldn’t get vaccinated himself due to “medical reasons.”

“The most important thing I have to say is that I’m for people being safe,” Medvedev said this month. “That’s the only thing I have to say on this, actually.”

Medvedev could face Djokovic in the final and is McEnroe’s pick to win the tournament.

“You’ve got guys who don’t trust their own government in one situation,” McEnroe said. “Then you’ve got guys like Novak or Tsitsipas who don’t want to put anything in their body. And then you’ve got the fact that it’s so international and they’re bouncing all over the world week to week and the rules and protocols are different everywhere you go.

“And then the inconvenience of getting the vaccine in certain places. Certain places didn’t have it…But when they came to the U.S. for the hardcourt season, they made it pretty much available for anyone who wanted it at the tournament.”

Andy Murray, who was set to face Tsitsipas in a first-round match Monday afternoon, said he was in favor of players getting vaccinated to improve safety.

“The reason why all of us are getting vaccinated is to look out for the wider public,” Murray said.

“We have a responsibility, as players who are travelling across the world, to look out for everyone else as well.

“I’m happy that I’m vaccinated. I’m hoping that more players choose to have it in the coming months.”

(Reuters contributed reporting)

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