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By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday, September 1, 2021


Former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka asserts "it's inevitable that [vaccination] will be mandated" on the pro circuit soon, while No. 1 Novak Djokovic disagrees.

Photo credit: Manuela Davies/USTA/US Open

Festive fans are to the US Open what rowdy revelers are to Times Square on New Year's Eve—an energizing force.

Players have repeatedly thanked fans for bringing back the buzz to Flushing Meadows this week after the Coronavirus pandemic forced the 2020 US Open to be contested behind closed doors without fans.

Murray: Players Have a Responsibility to Get Vaccinated

Three-time US Open finalist Victoria Azarenka asserts players should do more than praise fans—they should emulate their example.

The former world No. 1 called the US Open's policy of requiring proof of vaccination for fans, while permitting unvaccinated players to compete in the Open "a bit bizarre."

On Friday evening, the US Open announced all fans ages 12 and older, regardless of ticket type, will now be required to show proof of at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination to attend the US Open.

Azarenka suggests this US Open, the first Grand Slam tournament since the pandemic to welcome 100 percent full capacity crowds to all sessions, can be a game-changer in the vaccination conversation. Azarenka says she believes it's "inevitable that [vaccination] will be mandated" on the pro circuit soon so players should not delay taking a vaccine.

Last week, Ben Rothenberg reported fewer than 50 percent of all WTA players have been vaccinated. Azarenka says from a health, safety and business standpoint, vaccine hesitancy does not make sense for the pro circuit.

"I want to start this conversation between our players, because to me that's a bit bizarre that fans have to be vaccinated and players are not," Azarenka told the media after defeating Jasmine Paolini to set up a blockbuster US Open third-round clash vs. Garbine Muguruza. "So I think that in my opinion, it's inevitable that it will be mandated at some point, like other leagues are doing. 

"I don't see the point of stalling it, really, because I think we all want to be safe, we all want to continue doing our jobs, and I know there is a lot of discussions about it. But to me, I respect everybody's opinion as long as it's not conspiracy theory. You know, if you actually have decent knowledge and looked into research and have your facts and stats and research, that's a different conversation. But I feel that that part of conversation that really you need to be knowledgeable to what you're saying is missing in a lot of players."

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic has a different point of view asserting vaccination is a matter of personal health and should not be mandated. Twenty-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Aryna Sabalenka and Diego Schwartzman are among the players who have expressed concerns about making vaccinations mandatory on the pro circuit.

Currently, the ATP and WTA encourage players to get vaccinated but does not require it. Djokovic, who contracted COVID-19 during the 2020 Adria Tour, said he hopes the rule remains the same giving players freedom of choice.

"Of course we all wish that we have every single tournament full capacity. But it seems like it's not yet possible," Djokovic said. "I mean, I'm not in a position, neither am I an expert, to debate what is the reason why we don't have everywhere full capacity, whether vaccines will help that or not.

"I feel like that should be always a personal decision, whether you want to get vaccinated or not. So I'm supportive of that. So whether someone wants to get a vaccine or not, that's completely up to them. I hope that it stays that way."

Tennis Express

Azarenka suggests this US Open should be the conversation starter on defining a united player policy to move forward safely on the global tour. And Azarenka says even if players don't want to engage in COVID-19 vaccination conversations, she believes a mandate is inevitable to sustain the sport.

"I think that it's such a question that is like going back and forth with a lot of people, although I think that majority of people still are trying to be progressive and trying to find a solution moving forward, which is in my opinion is part of being vaccinated," Azarenka said. "I hope that as a association we make the best decision for our business, for our health, for the tournaments, for public. And I think that we need to start this conversation, because as I said, in my opinion it's just inevitable."


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