Novak Djokovic will be allowed to play at the French Open even if he is not vaccinated against COVID-19 as long as the coronavirus situation in France remains stable, organizers said on Wednesday.
Russian tennis players, including top-ranked Daniil Medvedev, will also be admitted to play in the tournament but as neutral athletes because of the war started by their country in neighboring Ukraine.
Organizers said there is nothing at the moment preventing Djokovic from defending his title at the clay-court Grand Slam. France this week lifted measures requiring the need to wear face masks in most settings and allowing people who aren’t vaccinated back into restaurants, sports arenas and other venues.
“At this stage there is nothing to stop him returning to the courts,” French Open director Amelie Mauresmo said at a news conference.
Djokovic was deported from Australia in January after a legal battle over whether he should be allowed to enter the country, forcing him to miss the Australian Open. He told the BBC last month that he was willing to miss upcoming Grand Slam tournaments as well if they required him to get vaccinated.
Djokovic has won the French Open twice and has a total of 20 major titles, one short of the record held by Rafael Nadal after the Spaniard won this year’s Australian Open.
French tennis federation president Gilles Moretton added: “Today there is a little virus that is going around. We are quite confident that the lights are green, but we are all cautious about what has happened over the last two years.”
Asked whether Russian tennis players will be allowed to compete at the tournament in the light of the conflict with Ukraine, organizers said they plan to stick to decisions suspending Russia and ally Belarus but allowing their players to compete as neutral athletes.
Meanwhile, all Grand Slam tournaments will trial using a first-to-10 tie-break in final sets this year, the four competitions announced on Wednesday.
Until now, the major events all employed different rules on how to end a match which reaches 6-6 in a deciding set.
The Australian Open already uses a first-to-10 breaker, while the US Open has opted for a traditional first-to-seven tie-break at 6-6 for over 50 years.
The French Open has still not used a final-set tie-break, although Wimbledon introduced a first-to-seven breaker at 12-12 in 2019.
“The Grand Slam Board are pleased to announce the joint decision to play a 10-point tie-break at all Grand Slams, to be played when the score reaches six games all in the final set,” the organisers of the Grand Slams said in a statement.
“The Grand Slam Board’s decision is based on a strong desire to create greater consistency in the rules of the game at the Grand Slams.”
With the exception of the US Open, the Grand Slams had no final-set tie-breaks until three years ago.
But there were calls for change after John Isner’s famous match against Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon in 2010, which the American won 70-68 in a fifth set after more than 11 hours of play.
The Grand Slam Board added they would review the trial before “applying for any permanent rule change”.