Novak Djokovic will be allowed to play at the French Open even if he is not vaccinated against COVID-19 as long as the coronavirus situation in France remains stable, organizers said Wednesday.
Russian tennis players, including top-ranked Daniil Medvedev, will also be admitted to play in the tournament but as neutral athletes because of the war started by their country in neighboring Ukraine.
Organizers said there is nothing at the moment preventing Djokovic from defending his title at the clay-court Grand Slam. France this week lifted measures requiring the need to wear face masks in most settings and allowing people who aren’t vaccinated back into restaurants, sports arenas and other venues.
“At this stage there is nothing to stop him returning to the courts,” French Open director Amelie Mauresmo said at a news conference.
Djokovic was deported from Australia in January after a legal battle over whether he should be allowed to enter the country, forcing him to miss the Australian Open. He told the BBC last month that he was willing to miss upcoming Grand Slam tournaments as well if they required him to get vaccinated.
Djokovic has won the French Open twice and has a total of 20 major titles, one short of the record held by Rafael Nadal after the Spaniard won this year’s Australian Open.
French tennis federation president Gilles Moretton said that although Djokovic is now free to play, French authorities might be forced to introduce new restrictions if the virus situation deteriorates before the tournament starts on May 22.
“It is not up to us,” Moretton said. “Today there is a little virus that is going around. We are quite confident that the lights are green, but we are all cautious about what has happened over the last two years.”
Asked whether Russian tennis players will be allowed to compete at the tournament in the light of the war in Ukraine, organizers said they plan to stick to decisions suspending Russia and ally Belarus but allowing their players to compete as neutral athletes.
The seven groups that run the sport around the world have condemned the war; canceled events in Russia and Belarus; kicked those two nations out of the Billie Jean King Cup and Davis Cup team competitions; and announced on March 1 that players from those countries will be allowed to compete in WTA, ATP and Grand Slam tournaments but not under the name or flag of Russia or Belarus.
“We are holding this line,” said Amelie Oudea-Castera, the French tennis federation director-general.
Other sports, including track and field, soccer and figure skating, have barred Russian and Belarusian athletes from competition.
Wimbledon organizers are having conversations with the British government about whether Russian players should be allowed to compete at the grass-court tournament this year if they don’t distance themselves from President Vladimir Putin.
Oudea-Castera said French organizers don’t plan to start a detailed and individualized analysis of players’ individual situations, which “can be extraordinarily dependent on the family situations experienced by each of them.”
Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, the day Medvedev was assured of moving atop the ATP rankings for the first time while competing at the Mexico Open.
“Watching the news from home, waking up here in Mexico, was not easy,” Medvedev said then. “By being a tennis player, I want to promote peace all over the world. We play in so many different countries; I’ve been in so many countries as a junior and as a pro. It’s just not easy to hear all this news. … I’m all for peace.”
Without any outdoor restrictions in place, Moretton said he expects the Roland Garros venues to be used at “maximum capacity” this year after the previous two editions were affected by the pandemic. Tickets went on sale this month, and Moretton said about 500,000 seats out of the 600,000 available for the day sessions have already been sold.
For the 10 night sessions on Court Philippe Chatrier, only 50,000 tickets remain available from the 150,000 on sale.
“We will be very happy to be back together, we are delighted,” Moretton said.