Tennis: No clarity on Djokovic's participation, with ATP Cup days away

<p>Serbia's Novak Djokovic returns the ball during the men's singles semi-final tennis match between Croatia and Serbia of the Davis Cup tennis tournament at the Madrid arena in Madrid on December 3, 2021. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)</p>
There has been intense speculation over Novak Djokovic's participation due to his opposition to Covid-19 vaccinations. PHOTO: AFP

(REUTERS) - With players starting to arrive in Sydney for the men's season-opening ATP Cup, there was still no clarity on Monday (Dec 27) whether top-ranked Novak Djokovic would be taking part in the team tournament or in the Australian Open that follows.

There has been intense speculation over Djokovic's participation at the Australian Open, which starts on Jan 17, with the 34-year-old, who is opposed to vaccinations, repeatedly declining to say if he has been inoculated against Covid-19.

The rate of vaccination in the top 100 in men's tennis is 95 per cent, according to ATP Tour data.

With the organisers of the Grand Slam confirming that all players and participants at Melbourne Park must be vaccinated or have a medical exemption granted by an independent panel of experts, Djokovic has kept everyone guessing.

If the Serbian does not turn up, world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev would be the top draw at the ATP Cup, and he has already arrived in Sydney to help Russia defend its title.

Djokovic has won a record nine Australian Open titles, including the last three, and the chances of him playing Down Under improved when he was named in Serbia's team for the ATP Cup.

But last Saturday, a report in Serbian daily Blic said Djokovic would not be travelling to Sydney for the tournament, adding to doubts over whether he will play at Melbourne Park.

His father Srdjan told a Serbian television channel last month that Djokovic would probably pull out of the Major, saying Tennis Australia's stance on mandatory vaccination was tantamount to "blackmail".

Djokovic's pullout will, however, not impact Serbia's participation in the tournament, which has a US$10 million (S$13.6 million) prize purse, with the teams locked in on Dec 7 based on player entries.

Owing to Djokovic's current world ranking, Serbia received top billing for the 16-team ATP Cup from Jan 1-9 and were put in Group A along with Norway, Chile and Spain when the draw was held earlier this month.

With Serbia, who won the inaugural ATP Cup in 2020, scheduled to open its campaign on Saturday, time is running out for Djokovic to play in Sydney and then in Melbourne, where he would have a chance to break a three-way tie for 20 Major titles, currently shared with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Novak Djokovic after winning his group stage match against Norway's Casper Ruud at the ATP Finals in Italy and ranking world number one, on Nov 15, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

Meanwhile, world No. 5 Andrey Rublev is the fifth player to test positive for Covid-19 after playing at an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi this month.

Spaniard Nadal, Canadian Denis Shapovalov, Switzerland's Olympic champion Belinda Bencic and Tunisian Ons Jabeur all tested positive after taking part in the event. US Open champion Emma Raducanu tested positive in Abu Dhabi before the event and withdrew, while Nadal's coach Carlos Moya also contracted the novel coronavirus.

The 24-year-old Rublev, who beat Andy Murray in the World Tennis Championship final on Dec 18, confirmed on Twitter he was isolating with minimal symptoms.

"I am currently in Barcelona and unfortunately tested positive for Covid-19," the Russian said.

"I am in isolation and following all the protocols under the supervision of doctors.

"As you know, I am fully vaccinated and was preparing for tournaments - ATP Cup and Australian Open. Now I have to recover and I will go to Melbourne only when it will be safe for everyone."

Rublev was part of the Russian team that won the men's ATP Cup this year and had been included in the team for the upcoming edition.

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