Azarenka: Time for players to talk about mandatory vaccines

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Victoria Azarenka, of Belarus, celebrates her win over Jasmine Paolini, of Italy, during the second round of the US Open tennis championships, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

NEW YORK (AP) — After reaching the U.S. Open final last year with no fans, Victoria Azarenka appreciates playing in front of people again.

Especially because of what they had to do to be in the stands.

Spectators must show proof of at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to attend matches. Players are not required to get a shot and only about half on the men’s and women’s tourshave.

“I want to start this conversation between our players, because to me that’s a bit bizarre that fans have to be vaccinated and players are not,” Azarenka said. “So I think that in my opinion, it’s inevitable that it will be mandated at some point, like other leagues are doing.

“I don’t see the point of stalling it really, because I think we all want to be safe, we all want to continue doing our jobs, and I know there is a lot of discussions about it.”

After her 6-3, 7-6 (1) victory over Jasmine Paolini, the three-time U.S. Open runner-up said during her interview on the court that it was “cool” there were so many vaccinated people there to watch her.

Novak Djokovic said before the tournament he hopes the decision to get a vaccination remains a personal one. Azarenka thinks it’s time for the players and tours to talk about taking it beyond that.

“I hope that as an association we make the best decision for our business, for our health, for the tournaments, for public,” she said. “And I think that we need to start this conversation, because as I said, in my opinion it’s just inevitable.”

SABALENKA’S SCARE

As Aryna Sabalenka approached the net after beating Tamara Zidansek, she made clear that she wanted to shake with her left hand.

That’s because the No. 2 seed was trying to protect her right one.

Sabalenka said she hurt it when she fell on her right arm during her match and her finger was swollen afterward.

“We’ll see tomorrow what’s going on with my fingers, because right now it’s a little bit bigger,” she said. “It’s the color of my finger is changing. It’s getting darker.”

Sabalenka had no trouble playing through the pain, winning 6-3, 6-1 in 59 minutes. She had 24 winners to just 10 unforced errors.

Now she hopes there will be no effects from an injury that was so painful that she initially feared a broken hand.

“I was really worrying about my arm and my hand, and I’m really happy that I could finish this match,” Sabalenka said. “I have an extra day to see what’s going on, and maybe to do the best recovery I can do. Yeah, we’ll see. But I’m really, really hoping that I will be able to play on Friday.”

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HOME COUNTRY’S HOPES

After 13 American men made it to the second round of the U.S. Open for the first time since 1994, Frances Tiafoe made sure at least two of them will get to the third round.

Tiafoe, a 23-year-old from Maryland now based in Florida, moved on Wednesday by beating Argentina’s Guido Pella 6-1, 6-2, 7-5.

Tiafoe reached the fourth round at last year’s U.S. Open. He can return to that stage if he defeats No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev next.

“That’s what I want. I want him bad. … I’m coming after him,” Tiafoe said.

The last time they played each other was as juniors: Tiafoe beat Rublev in the U.S. Open boys’ quarterfinals in 2014.

The other two U.S. men in action Wednesday lost: Marcos Giron and Brandon Nakashima.

There are 10 others scheduled to play on Thursday, including a couple of Californians who meet, guaranteeing that one will get to the third round: Taylor Fritz and Jenson Brooksby.

The 13 to notch at least one win at Flushing Meadows were the most from the host country since 15 did it 27 years ago, a group that included Grand Slam title winners Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Ivan Lendl, Jim Courier and Michael Chang.

QUALITY QUALIFIERS

Four male qualifiers have made it to the U.S. Open’s third round for the second time since 2000: Germany’s Peter Gojowczyk, Switzerland’s Henri Laaksonen, Dutchman Botic van de Zandschulp and Slovakia’s Alex Molcan all won Wednesday.

Two more can join them by winning Thursday: American Maxime Cressy and Germany’s Oscar Otte.

Gojowczyk credited three victories in the pre-tournament rounds of qualifying with helping him build momentum for the main draw.

“Physically and mentally, I’m pretty strong right now,” he said after beating Dusan Lajovic 2-6, 6-4, 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 on Wednesday, following up his elimination of No. 23 seed Ugo Humbert in another five-setter in the first round Monday.

In qualifying, Gojowczyk beat Lukas Rosol, Robin Haase and Francisco Cerúndolo.

“It helps a lot if you have some confidence and if you’re winning some close matches,” Gojowczyk said. “It helps you a lot on the big stage.”

On Wednesday, van de Zandschulp surprised No. 8 seed Casper Ruud 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4, Laaksonen got past No. 16 seed Cristian Garín 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2, 6-4, and Molcan edged Brandon Nakashima 6-3, 3-6, 1-6, 6-2, 6-4.

PRIDE DAY

If a men’s professional tennis player came out as gay, Daniil Medvedev thinks he would be supported.

“I honestly think from my side — of course, you never know what’s true — but from my side, I think everybody would be super open if somebody would come out on the ATP Tour,” the 2019 U.S. Open runner-up said.

The No. 2 seed won his second-round match on the day the U.S. Open celebrated Pride Day.

“I think it’s great from (the) U.S. Open, this initiative,” Medvedev said. “I think ATP honestly is doing a good job also, especially internally, trying to provide info and to just make sure that if anybody wants to come out, he’s going to feel safe and secure.”

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AP Tennis Writer Howard Fendrich contributed to this report.

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More AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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