Novak Djokovic could be banned from going for a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam – because of his anti-vaccination stance.
The Serb star, 34, has made his feelings about the coronavirus jab clear.
He is refusing to get the vaccine – even if that means being forced to miss tennis tournaments that require players to be protected.
And with Australia remaining tough on their Covid-19 restrictions, talks are ongoing between Victoria’s Government and Tennis Australia officials regarding acceptance into January’s Grand Slam.
According to The Age, ‘it is probable a separate vaccine mandate will be required for tennis stars to play in Melbourne’.
That would rule Djokovic out of his favourite tournament, where he has won nine of his 20 Majors of a glistening career.
The world No1 and three-time defending champion would be the favourite to reign supreme Down Under again in the New Year.
And victory would see him overtake Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on to 21 Grand Slams.
Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley was concerned forcing players to be fully vaccinated to compete would have a detrimental impact on the tournament.
But a source told the Melbourne newspaper: “Tiley said we won’t get star players and the state government effectively said ‘suck it up’. They capitulated.”
Djokovic’s former coaching staff member Craig O’Shannessy said: “It’s Novak’s decision if he wants to get vaccinated. It’s his choice to participate in the Open if there is a mandate.
“[A mandate is] the right move on many layers.”
Djokovic was at the centre of a Covid storm early on during the pandemic when he hosted the infamous Adria Tour, complete with nightclub parties, with no social distancing as many players and participants contracted the virus – including himself.
The ace won three of the four Majors in 2021 to tie level with Federer and Nadal before defeat to Daniil Medvedev in the US Open final last month.
He beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in the French Open – and the Greek is another high-profile tennis player opposed to being jabbed.
No3-ranked Tsitsipas revealed he has concerns about the vaccination and would only get it if it became mandatory on the ATP Tour.
Aryna Sabalenka, the world No2, has also spoken out about her worries – but was ruled out of the prestigious Indian Wells tournament this week after testing positive for coronavirus.
British hero Andy Murray, though, is strongly in support of players getting vaccinated – and not just to protect themselves.
He said: “The reason why all of us are getting vaccinated is to look out for the wider public.
“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.”
It is estimated around 50 per cent of the ATP Tour and 60 per cent of the WTA Tour are vaccinated.