Born a fortnight apart in 1987, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have contested 19 tour-level finals. Now they find themselves on opposite sides of the debate over vaccines in tennis.
Djokovic last week declined to reveal whether he has received a vaccination himself – despite Serbia having an excess of supply thanks to low take-up rates – and said that it should not be compulsory for players to do so.
But Murray – who contracted Covid-19 in January – believes that vaccinations are the only way to help tennis move on from the bio-secure bubbles and hotel quarantines that have bedevilled this airmile-heavy sport over the last year.
“If you want to avoid having to be in a bubble for too long, you need to then support the vaccination,” said Murray. “Because you can’t just say, ‘No we want to just live normally and we don’t want any bubbles but we also don’t want to be vaccinated’. It’s a no-brainer to me.”
The last couple of weeks have finally delivered some progress on this front within the tennis workforce. On the women’s tour, the Volvo Car Open in Charleston, South Carolina, offered jabs to players earlier this month, with world No1 Ashleigh Barty among those who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Meanwhile the Serbian authorities have been so keen to use their unwanted Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines that they offered them to all the players at last week’s Belgrade Open – a tournament run by the Djokovic family – in spite of Novak Djokovic’s apparent scepticism.
Filip Krajinovic and Dusan Lajovic, the Serbian Nos 2 and 3, were among those to be injected. “I believe that we all need to get the vaccine in order to beat or limit this pandemic,” said Lajovic. “I think they [the ATP] are looking into changing some rules for players and members of their staff who have been vaccinated.”
Discussing his recent experiences in Miami – where he had intended to play last month before another groin injury sidelined him – Murray admitted that bubble life is “frustrating” and “tiring”.
But he also brought some perspective to the debate, pointing out that “60,000 people died in Brazil last month because of coronavirus … Right now it [using bubbles] is the best way to keep the tournaments safe, and players and the members of staff safe as well.”
That latest groin injury has left Murray without any time on the match court since he appeared in Rotterdam almost two months ago, scoring a rare tour-level win over Robin Haase. He is now back training on the clay, and has a few options in terms of warm-up events before the French Open, which starts on May 30.
“It’s just been another frustrating stop-starty period,” Murray said. “The positive thing is it [the latest groin issue] is nothing very serious.
“I need to be consistently practising [rather than] having these enforced breaks … The first thing is to be able to be on the practice court consistently and then I obviously need to get the matches. How many matches that is, I don’t know.”