January 7, 2022
(Adds details, reporting credit)
By Rory Carroll
(Reuters) – American tennis player Tennys Sandgren on Thursday offered support to Novak Djokovic after the world number one was denied entry into Australia amid a dispute over a COVID-19 vaccine medical exemption he received.
Djokovic was granted the exemption following a review by two independent medical panels prior to boarding his flight, but upon landing in Melbourne for this month’s Australian Open, he was denied entry.
The Serbian, who is chasing a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title, is currently holed up in a Melbourne hotel for immigration detainees after his lawyers launched an appeal, which is expected to be heard on Monday.
“Novak, stay strong, buddy,” Sandgren told Reuters from Nashville. “Hope you get out of there soon.”
Djokovic’s parents and the Serbian government have blasted the 20-time Grand Slam champion’s treatment, with his mother saying he is a “prisoner.”
Djokovic has consistently refused to disclose his vaccination status while publicly criticising vaccine mandates. Sandgren questioned whether Djokovic had been singled out.
“Other players who received the same medical exemptions that he did, were they scrutinised and met with the same almost hostility upon arrival?” he said.
“It seemed like it was very specific to him and his name because he is a high-profile guy and the number one player in the world, and his stance on vaccinations has been fairly open in regards to not being vaccinated.”
Sandgren, who has twice reached the Australian Open quarter-finals, said he is not competing there this year because he is unvaccinated and does not meet the criteria for a medical exemption.
The American said he is not opposed to the vaccine itself but is against anyone being forced to take it.
“I’m against the government telling you that you should inject something into your body. I believe that that’s not their place,” he said.
Sandgren said he hopes mutations of the virus will prove less deadly and, as they do, the heated debates over the vaccine will begin to fade and international travel will become easier.
“I’m hoping that we calm down a little bit and as these strains get weaker, hopefully over time we’ll be able to return back to some sort of normalcy regardless of vaccination status,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Aleksandra Michalska in New York; Editing by Ken Ferris)