A female tennis star has pleaded with Australian Open organisers to allow her to play in the wake of players who have not proven their vaccination status, such as Novak Djokovic, being handed medical exemptions.
Like a handful of other professionals, Natalia Vikhlyantseva is not allowed to travel to Australian due to vaccine mandates in force.
But her situation is different from many others – she has been vaccinated.
The problem in the Russian's case is the brand of vaccine that she was administered with is not recognised as being a qualifying jab by a number of western countries.
Vikhlyantseva was given the Russian Sputnik jab, like many others in her country.
She had been offered the opportunity to have other permitted types of vaccine while on tour by the WTA, but she chose to wait as she did not want side-effects to put her out of action in the middle of the season.
After hearing of several other athletes, including defending Melbourne champion Djokovic, apparently being given medical exemptions despite not having received any vaccine, the former world number 54 hopes she can change officials' minds about her case.
"For sure I was really upset that I can’t be in Australia with the whole tennis world," she told ITV News.
"I know it was anonymous how they did the exemptions… so I can't say that something's not right but I just feel that I can also play and I'm ready for all the tests, just give me a chance to play."
Djokovic was eventually blocked at the border and looks set to be deported from Australia, but that appears to be over a visa issue rather than the medical exemption he claims he has being revoked.
While many other tennis stars and locals in Melbourne were furious to learn Djokovic had been given an exemption, Vikhlyantseva said she did not want to speak ill of other players who are just as desperate to play as she is.
"I don't want to blame someone or say something is not correct, no," the Russian continued.
"I think there are some medical exemptions that Nole showed and it was correct for Tennis Australia and the Australian government."
Instead, her feeling of injustice is aimed firmly at Australian travel rules – specifically what she feels is an unfair disregard for those who have had the Sputnik vaccine.
"I think now in this new reality that we live, the most important thing is to not forget that we are players and we are players who live in our own countries," she said.
"It's not fair I think, because we are not non-vaccinated – we are vaccinated. Just we decided that Sputnik is also a good vaccine."
Despite Vikhlyantseva's protestations, the chances of the rules being relaxed to allow her to compete between now and the start of the competition on January 17 seem slim at best.
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