Novak Djokovic
The decks are cleared for world No.1 Novak Djokovic to defend his crown at this year's Wimbledon. Image Credit: AFP

London:Novak Djokovic will be allowed to defend his title at Wimbledon, despite not being vaccinated against Covid-19, because the shots are not required to enter Britain, All England Club chief executive Sally Bolton said Tuesday.

Djokovic, a 34-year-old Serb who is ranked No. 1, missed the Australian Open in January after being deported from that country because he was not vaccinated against the illness caused by the coronavirus that has led to the deaths of millions during the pandemic that began in 2020.

During the annual spring briefing ahead of Wimbledon, which starts on June 27, Bolton said that ‘‘whilst, of course, it is encouraged’’ that all players get vaccinated, ‘‘it will not be a condition of entry to compete’’ at the grasscourt Grand Slam tournament this year.

Djokovic, in addition to being unable to defend his championship at Melbourne Park after an 11-day legal saga over whether he could remain in Australia, had to sit out tournaments at Indian Wells and Miami because he couldn’t travel to the United States as a foreigner who is unvaccinated.

The US Tennis Association has said that it will follow whatever governmental rules are in place regarding Covid-19 vaccination status when the US Open is held starting in late August.

Djokovic - who has said he got Covid-19 twice, once each in 2020 and 2021 - owns 20 Grand Slam singles titles, tied with Roger Federer for the second-most for a man. They trail Rafael Nadal, who won his 21st at the Australian Open.

Six of Djokovic’s trophies came at Wimbledon, including victories each of the past three times the tournament was held - in 2018, 2019 and 2021. It was not held in 2020 because of the pandemic.

Ban the only option

Meanwhile, organisers said banning Russian and Belarusian players from this year’s championships was the only viable option under the guidance provided by the British government.

ELTC Chairman Ian Hewitt said the government guidance did not allow players to compete at the tournament based on their rankings and there were two available options - declining entries, or allowing entries but only with specific written declarations from individual players.

“We believe we have made the most responsible decision possible in the circumstances,” Hewitt told reporters, adding that they are having regular discussions with players and the ATP and the WTA.