Maria Sakkari is the latest player at the US Open to speak out about vaccinations on the pro tours, the World No 18 from Greece expressing her views that are distinctly opposite to those of her countryman, Stefanos Tsitsipas, who has said he will not get vaccinated until it becomes mandatory.
Many players at the US Open haven't been vaccinated, while every fan in the stands has been vaccinated. I am vaccinated, my family is vaccinated, my team, all my friends. I don't have anyone around me who isn't. It seems strange to me that a big percentage of the players isn't, I guess they have their reasons. Maria Sakkari
Sakkari, however, says everyone around her is fully vaccinated and she finds it strange that the majority of players have yet to be jabbed, while all the fans attending the US Open must show proof of vaccination in order to enter the grounds and sit in the stands.
“Many players at the US Open haven’t been vaccinated, while every fan in the stands has been vaccinated,” Sakkari said. “I am vaccinated, my family is vaccinated, my team, all my friends. I don’t have anyone around me who isn’t.
“It seems strange to me that a big percentage of the players isn’t, I guess they have their reasons,” Sakkari added.
Victoria Azarenka brought this anomaly to light earlier in the week after her 2nd-round win over Italy’s Jasmine Paolini, arguing that the WTA and the ATP’s current stance of encouraging but not mandating inoculations is merely delaying the inevitable.
Spectators at the Grand Slam in Flushing Meadows are required to show proof of their vaccination status before entering the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre, following a late change imposed by New York City Mayor’s office and the USTA, unless they are younger than 12.
“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 said. “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 a 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 are saying, is missing in a lot of players.
“I hope that as an 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.”
Azarenka added that she remains puzzled as to why different rules are in place for spectators and players, and believes requiring those taking part on the tour to receive their jabs against COVID-19 would make events safer.
“It was great to be back playing in front of fans and mostly vaccinated,” she commented.
Players have mixed opinions, speaking out both in favour and against vaccination, and Azarenka’s compatriot, the World No 2 Aryna Sabalenka, and Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina are among those on the WTA Tour to have expressed hesitancy.
Jo Konta is also a vaccine-sceptic, despite missing Wimbledon and Olympics with Covid.
“There was nothing good about getting Covid and nothing good about getting it when I got it,” Konta said about her experience with the virus. “I was reasonably ill and it was challenging. We had to be quite sensible when we came back and started training again.”
With regard to missing Wimbledon, she added: “I was sleeping or just existing for a few days. Other than that, I didn’t really want to watch it. I didn’t feel like it. I had to work through my own feelings of injustice of ‘why now?’ I just needed a bit of space and a bit of licking my wounds.”
Konta now says she is undecided over whether to get jabbed, or not.
“I’ll make a personal choice on, kind of, when and how and where, and all those things,” she said. “This is a tricky thing to talk about because it’s a very inflammatory subject and there’s no real right answer.
“I don’t want to talk about it because I wouldn’t be able to get my point across without it being a case for argument.”
Tennis remains split down the middle on the issue of vaccinations, and the British No 1s find themselves on opposite side of the fence.
Dan Evans also missed the Tokyo Olympics after testing positive for COVID shortly before the Games, and on his return to the court in Washington, he admitted that he was ‘nowhere near to being fit’.
“I had one vaccine – a shot of Pfizer – and I was supposed to have the next one when I became sick,” he said. “I would prefer people to have it.
“I mean, they aren’t pulling this vaccine out the back of a lorry, are they? There’s a lot of science in it to say it’s good for us.
“That’s my take on it and that’s why I want the vaccine. I’ll definitely be getting the next shot.
“There’s some stories out there of people who were anti-vax and suddenly had complications and now wish they’d had it.”
Murray has suggested that conversations have already started over a two-tier system, in which vaccinated players will be able to ‘train and move freely between the hotel and stuff’, while others are to face tough quarantines on tour.
Two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep from Romania was one of the first players to get vaccinated and recently expressed her hope that vaccinations can help ease COVID-19-related restrictions on the WTA Tour.
Australia’s World No 1 Ash Barty also has been jabbed, while on the ATP Tour Switzerland’s Roger Federer, Spain’s Rafael Nada and Britain’s Andy Murray, all of whom have been vaccinated and actively encourage take-up.
Murray argues that players should be jabbed because they ‘have a responsibility…to look out for everyone else’.
Men’s World No 1 Novak Djokovic of Serbia, however, has said he opposes any move to make vaccines compulsory.
Frenchman Gilles Simon was forced to withdraw from the US Open because his coach tested positive but had he been vaccinated, this would not have been necessary.
“I am not very afraid of Covid,” he said. “My basic philosophy is: If you are afraid of it, you vaccinate, otherwise, you don’t.”
Players probably will need to be prepared for a bio-secure two-week bubble ahead of 2022 Australian Open, the next major on the calendar.
Australian Open boss Craig Tiley remains confident the Melbourne Park Grand Slam will proceed in January despite COVID-19 continuing to wreak havoc around much of the country.
“There’s a lot of time between now and when we get going but, at this point in time, we’re planning on having a two-week bubble, where the players will be able to move freely between the hotel and the courts,” Tiley said during a Nine Network marketing launch.
“They’re protected, they’re kept safe among themselves and safe from the community as well.
“And after those two weeks, they’ll come out and be able to compete in the Australian Open in front of crowds.”
Tiley added that AO officials were working closely with the government and health authorities to determine exactly what the crowd capacity would be at Melbourne Park.
Fans were banned for much of the 2021 Open following a snap lockdown of Melbourne due to a COVID outbreak in the Victorian capital midway through the tournament.
He also hopes Australia reaches its target of vaccinating 80% of adults by November.
“That will certainly help the situation for the event in January,” he said.
Reports are circulating, too, that those who have been vaccinated will be offered greater freedom in Australia than those who have not.