Novak Djokovic withdrew from this week’s ATP Cup in Sydney, organizers said on Wednesday, raising questions about whether he will defend his Australian Open title.
There has been intense speculation about whether he will travel to Australia, having declined to confirm whether he has been inoculated against the coronavirus.
“World number one Novak Djokovic has withdrawn from the ATP Cup 2022,” organizers said in a statement ahead of the start of the team tournament on Saturday.
“The Serbian team will now be led by world number 33, Dusan Lajovic.”
Djokovic, the nine-time Australian Open champion, could win a record 21 Grand Slam titles if he plays at Melbourne Park next month, but to enter Australia, he and members of his entourage must be vaccinated.
He had previously voiced his opposition to the vaccine and his father Srdjan said in late November that Djokovic would probably not play the first Grand Slam of the year, accusing organizers of “blackmail”.
Djokovic has been named to the entry list for the Australian Open, which begins January 17, but could still retire. He was also originally on the entry list for the ATP Cup.
Tennis Australia has arranged charter flights to bring international stars to Melbourne and Sydney.
Defending Australian Open women’s champion Naomi Osaka was one of those who landed on Tuesday, but Djokovic was not on board. Players can also choose to fly commercially.
The ATP Cup has been hit by several withdrawals, either from Covid or injury, and as a result, France will replace Austria in Group B after Dominic Thiem and Dennis Novak withdrew, organizers said on Wednesday.
Andrey Rublev of the Russian team, which has Covid, Aslan Karatsev and Evgeny Donskoy have also withdrawn, the ATP Cup said, as has American Austin Krajicek.
Covid seems poised to cast a dark shadow over the Australian Open and the series of tournaments in the country beforehand.
Spanish superstar Rafael Nadal, who was due to play a preparation event in Melbourne next week, was one of several players who contracted the virus at an Abu Dhabi exhibition tournament this month.
His Abu Dhabi opponent, Wimbledon semi-finalist Denis Shapovalov, also tested positive later.
Three players at the same event also tested positive: Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic, US Open champion Emma Raducanu and Wimbledon quarterfinalist Ons Jabeur.
Earlier Wednesday, Nick Kyrgios urged Nadal and Djokovic to play at the Australian Open, saying it would be a “disaster” if the ‘Big Three’ were not present.
Swiss ace Roger Federer has already retired while recovering from a knee injury and Nadal’s plans are unclear.
The dominant ‘Big Three’ have won 20 Grand Slam titles each and Kyrgios said tennis still needs them, starting in Melbourne next month.
“Honestly, I am not aware of Novak’s current situation with anything related to Covid or what he needs to play,” the colorful Kyrgios told the Melbourne Age newspaper.
“I hope he had a good Christmas and I hope he can play in this sport for as long as possible because I have expressed before that I think Federer, Nadal and Djokovic should be (playing).”
“If all three are not there, it is a disaster.”