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Covid-19 forces Sabalenka out of Indian Wells, creates questions about 2022 Australian Open And Novak

By Ricky Dimon

On the women’s side, the BNP Paribas Open was already without two of its top three seeds. Both world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty and world No. 3 Naomi Osaka withdrew last month. Barty’s exit left Aryna Sabalenka in line to be the top seed at the upcoming 1000-point event, but the world No. 2 was forced to pull out on Saturday because of a positive Covid-19 test.

Players outdoor lunch room at the BNP Paribas Open.  It will be full on Monday.

“Unfortunately I’ve tested positive at Indian Wells and won’t be able to compete,” the 23-year-old posted on Instagram, apparently from her hotel room in Indian Wells. “I’ve started my isolation and I’ll be staying here until I’m cleared by the doctors and health officials. So far I’m looking okay but really sad to not be able to play this year.”

Sabalenka’s withdrawal pretty much ends her chances of surpassing Barty for the No. 1 ranking later this year. The Belarusian is currently second in the race, 1,742 points behind.

Speaking of races for No. 1, the men’s Indian Wells Masters will be missing Novak Djokovic. The 34-year-old Serb is still in great position to finish 2021 in the top spot, but Daniil Medvedev can put himself in contention going into the Nitto ATP Finals if he reaches the final in both Indian Wells and Paris. Djokovic withdrew from 2021’s penultimate Masters 1000 tournament last week and it is unclear when he will return to the court on the heels of his near-miss of the calendar-year Grand Slam.

“I am sorry I wont get to see my fans in Indian Wells and play in the desert, my favorite place to go,” the 20-time major champion stated when announcing his withdrawal last week. “I hope to see you next year!

For now the question is if the Australian Open will see Djokovic next year.

Government officials in the state of Victoria–where Melbourne is located– announced this weekend that professional athletes have to be vaccinated before they can compete. While the mandate definitely applies to local athletes, it remains to be seen how–and/or when–it will impact those traveling from overseas.

“Ultimately, if you want to come to work and you’re on the authorized list, you need to have your first jab by Friday, Oct. 15,” Victoria premier Daniel Andrews said.

The clock could be ticking on professional tennis players, who are reportedly one of the least populated vaccinated groups in sports.

Ricky contributes to10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.