Roger Federer’s sponsor to ‘lead the charge’ to prevent Australian Open outbreaks

Australian tennis will insist all players immunised to protect their opponents in a bid to curb the spread of meningitis, resulting in fewer unvaccinated prodigies turning up to the Australian Open.

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As more than half the Australian men’s professional tennis team aged 20 and under were not yet fully immunised, 11-times grand slam champion Roger Federer’s tournament sponsor, AB InBev, has agreed to “lead the charge” to ensure everyone is up to scratch, including major juniors.

This year’s Australian Open will have a special committee to monitor the participation of top prospects who are not vaccinated, who by tradition go to the opening night of the tournament to have a party at the MCG.

AB InBev will also fund the “Silver Bugs”: sports scientists who look after everyone’s vaccinations, including those of the mother, schoolmates and anyone travelling with the player, thereby trying to head off what happened last year when a six-year-old, Tim Grover, was the first to fall ill.

Other players have been reassured that their health should not be an issue. Melbourne Lawn Tennis Association (MLTA) chief executive Chris Kermode said: “We have no issues from the players’ perspective. If there is one athlete that is exposed to any [meningitis] issues at all, it’s those young kids who are not vaccinated.”

Roger Federer’s sponsor AB InBev has agreed to ‘lead the charge’ to ensure everyone is up to scratch at the Australian Open. Photograph: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Grover succumbed to meningitis en route to having surgery to his spine at the Peter Reid Children’s hospital in Nepean, in western Sydney. In a letter he wrote from the hospital, Grover spoke of being a “normal life” teenager followed by his chance meeting with the pros, including Federer.

“I was recently told that Roger Federer had met me and that I was in his hospital,” Grover wrote. “It is a sad story, but he and I became friends. I thought about it and immediately texted him a picture of my MRI. He replied and was happy to see me.”

Grover had also recently lost his left-arm cricket fast bowler as his mother had become unwell due to the weather.

But his positivity and good humour about his illness remained a stark contrast with other victims – even his mother, who now faces lengthy rehabilitation after suffering life-changing issues due to her injuries.

“She is very happy about the progress I am making but really she’s livid with the way the whole thing has been handled. She couldn’t be more angry,” Grover wrote.

“She’s still in pain but knows she won’t let [Meningitis UK] and the medical professionals stop her from attending my matches and support me.”

The Australian tennis association reached out to Meningitis UK to ensure it was fully aware of the situation prior to last year’s Open when World No 2 Andy Murray also left the Melbourne tournament due to the situation.

Murray’s late withdrawal from the tournament, when he was about to face Novak Djokovic in the final, allowed the tennis great to finish his duties for the event and go home.

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“We have spoken to them. We have spoken to everyone, the players. These things happen around the world,” Kermode said.

“Some guys are paranoid. They don’t want any negatives.”

This year’s Australian Open will be the first in the country to have compulsory immunisation for all players aged 11-23.

The head of Meningitis UK, Prof Stephen Pollard, welcomed the move to immunise all players on the men’s professional tennis tour in an effort to stop outbreaks in Australia.

The Australian Open will be the first to introduce compulsory immunisation for all players on the men’s professional tennis tour. Photograph: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

“We want to see the boys as well as the young girls immunised. We want to see every boy immunised,” Pollard said.

“They are the most likely incubators of meningitis in this country.”

Meningitis UK also welcomed AB InBev’s commitment to reducing the number of young athletes travelling to Melbourne after the tournament.

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