Huge boost for Novak Djokovic amid first public appearance with wife

Novak Djokovic, pictured here after losing to Rafa Nadal in the Italian Open final in 2021.
Novak Djokovic lost to Rafa Nadal in the Italian Open final in 2021. (Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images)

Novak Djokovic has been handed a massive boost in his bid to keep playing while unvaccinated, with the Italian sports minister saying the World No.1 will be allowed to compete at the Italian Open.

Djokovic revealed this week that he will not get the Covid-19 jab in order to play tennis tournaments, even if it means missing grand slams.

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On Thursday, Italian sports minister Valentina Vezzali said Djokovic will be allowed to participate in the Italian Open because outdoor events don't require a person to be vaccinated.

"It is an outdoor sport and the tighter green pass is not required," Vezzali told Italian newspaper Libero.

"So if Djokovic wants to come to Italy to play, he will be able to do so. Maybe without visiting hotels and restaurants."

Earlier this month, Italy's government lifted an obligation to wear masks outdoors under most circumstances in response to an improving coronavirus situation.

The Italian Open will take place in Rome from May 2-15, with new Australian Open champion Rafa Nadal having beaten Djokovic in last year's final.

Nadal won his 21st major at the Australian Open to go one ahead of Djokovic and Roger Federer in the men's all-time grand slam race.

The Italian Open serves as a key lead-up tournament to the French Open, where Nadal will be the heavy favourite to win his 22nd major.

Novak Djokovic, pictured here after winning the Italian Open in 2020.
Novak Djokovic won the Italian Open in 2020. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Novak Djokovic gets warm welcome in Dubai

Meanwhile, Djokovic has received a warm welcome in Dubai as he prepares to make his eagerly-anticipated return to the tennis court following the global drama surrounding his decision to remain unvaccinated.

The Serb posed for selfies with adoring fans and set off on a guided tour of Serbia's national pavilion at Expo 2020 on Thursday, days before he's due to hit the courts at the Dubai Tennis Championships.

The pavilion was hosting an event for the Novak Djokovic Foundation, which promotes early childhood education in Serbia.

As he ambled into the pavilion surrounded by a sea of journalists, fans clapped and chanted "Nole" - his nickname.

"I'm proud to be on this stage," Djokovic said after his wife Jelena gave a presentation about the foundation's work with children.

Novak Djokovic and wife Jelena, pictured here visiting the Serbian pavillion at the Expo 2020 in Dubai.
Novak Djokovic and wife Jelena visit the Serbian pavillion at the Expo 2020 in Dubai. (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)

It marked his first public appearance with Jelena since being kicked out of Australia.

He said it was often hard to be involved as much as he wanted to be with the foundation given his whirlwind tournament schedule, but admitted with a smile and to much applause: "It's not as busy as it used to be!"

Meanwhile, one of Djokovic's major sponsors - car manufacturer Peugeot - said it expected its logo to still be on his shirt when he competed in Dubai.

"We anticipate the Peugeot brand will be represented at the tournament in Dubai on Mr Djokovic's shirt," a source close to Peugeot told Reuters.

Djokovic was deported from Australia in the lead-up to the Australian Open after having his visa cancelled by Immigration Minister Alex Hawke.

As it stands, he looks likely to be allowed to play at the French Open and Wimbledon but will have a tough time getting into the United States for the US Open.

with AAP

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