Azarenka wants mandatory vaccines, but players divided

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Proof of Covid-19 vaccinations are mandatory for adult US Open spectators but not for players -- and that's something Victoria Azarenka finds "bizarre."

Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open winner and three-time US Open runner-up from Belarus, told fans after her victory Wednesday she was glad they were all vaccinated for the deadly virus, a requirement mandated by New York City officials.

"I want to start this conversation between our players, because to me it's a bit bizarre that fans have to be vaccinated and players are not," Azarenka said.

"In my opinion, it's inevitable that it will be mandated at some point. I don't see the point of stalling it, because I think we all want to be safe, to continue doing our jobs and I know there is a lot of discussions about it."

The WTA says nearly half its players are vaccinated while the ATP says just over half its players are vaccinated.

Greek third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas controversially said last month he would get vaccinated only if it was mandatory.

"At some point I'll have to, I'm pretty sure about it, but so far it hasn't been mandatory to compete, so I haven't done it," he said.

Just over half of Americans have been vaccinated, reflecting divisions much like those among elite players.

"I respect everybody's opinion as long as it's not conspiracy theory, if you actually have decent knowledge and looked into research and have your facts and stats and research," said Azarenka.

"That part of conversation, that really you need to be knowledgeable to what you're saying, is missing in a lot of players."

Russian second seed Daniil Medvedev, the 2019 US Open and 2021 Australian Open runner-up, isn't for players talking over the merits of mandatory vaccinations, leaving the decision to ATP and WTA officials.

"I understand why they did it to the fans. So far it has not been applied to the players," Medvedev said. "As players, we can just follow the guidelines and rules. That's all we can do.

"It's not for players to decide, because that's why we have governing bodies in tennis. Sometimes we might not be happy with them. Sometimes we might be happy. But it's still them who make the decisions. It's definitely not players.

"We are just, you know, hard workers who do their job on the tennis court."

A positive test would deny players that opportunity, US Open tournament director Stacey Allaster warned.

"We have a rigorous protocol in place. Testing is a key component to mitigate risk for the health and safety of all," she said.

"In the event that an athlete tests positive, that athlete will be taken out of the competition."

Top-ranked golfer Jon Rahm of Spain led a PGA event by six strokes after three rounds in June but was forced to withdraw after testing positive. He also missed the Olympics after a positive Covid-19 test in July.

One could only imagine the uproar if top-ranked Novak Djokovic were forced to withdraw with a positive Covid-19 test, dooming doom his calendar-year Grand Slam bid.

"I hope that as an association we make the best decision for our business, for our health, for the tournaments, for public," Azarenka said. "We need to start this conversation because it's just inevitable."

- Responsibility to public -

Three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray of Britain said talks are ongoing.

"Players that have been vaccinated are going to be having very different conditions to players who are not. It's going to become an issue over the coming months," Murray said.

"There's going to have to be a lot of pretty long, hard conversations with the tour and all the players involved to try and come to a solution."

In New York, vaccinations are needed for gyms and restaurants.

"I'm enjoying kind of a fairly normal life, whereas for the players that haven't (been vaccinated), it's different. I'm sure they'll be frustrated," Murray said.

"Ultimately I guess the reason why all of us are getting vaccinated is to look out for the wider public. We have a responsibility as players that are traveling across the world to look out for everyone else as well.

"I'm happy that I'm vaccinated. I'm hoping more players choose to have it in the coming months."

js/rcw

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