Nick Kyrgios on Tuesday called for the Australian Open to be cancelled, while unexpectedly showing sympathy to tennis world number one Novak Djokovic, who has refused to reveal his vaccination status.
The mercurial Australian said he believed January's opening Grand Slam of the year should not go ahead out of respect for the struggles Melbourne, which hosts the tournament, has endured during the pandemic.
The city has spent more than 260 days under lockdown since coronavirus emerged, and Kyrgios suggested it was not worth risking another setback.
"I don't think the Aus Open should go ahead, just for the people in Melbourne — you've got to send a message," he said on his podcast, 'No Boundaries'.
"How long did (Melbourne) do in lockdown? 275 days or something?"
Victoria state Sports Minister Martin Pakula disagreed, saying he "couldn't follow the logic" of Kyrgios' comments.
"Melburnians, Victorians, and, frankly all Australians, are absolutely gagging for major events," he told reporters. "Our economy needs it, our state psyche needs it."
The tournament went ahead this year, but players were forced to spend two weeks in hotel quarantine, crowds were restricted and a five-day snap lockdown was called mid-event.
Organisers are adamant it will run as scheduled in 2022, with fully vaccinated players expected to be able to enter Australia without being quarantined or confined to bio-secure bubbles.
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews has said exemptions would be denied to unvaccinated players, casting doubt over whether nine-time champion Djokovic, who has refused to reveal his vaccination status, will defend his title.
Kyrgios has had a testy relationship with the Serbian, calling him "a tool" at this year's Australian Open over his demands to ease hotel quarantine restrictions for players.
But he appears to have softened his stance, saying Djokovic should be able to compete regardless while referencing basketball star Kyrie Irving who has missed the start of the NBA season after refusing to get a Covid jab.
"Kyrie, Novak … these guys have given so much, sacrificed so much. They are global athletes who millions of people look up to," said the Australian, who has slipped to 90 in the world.
"I just think it is so morally wrong to force someone to be vaccinated.
"I'm double-vaccinated, but I just don't think it's right to force anyone (to be vaccinated) and say 'you can't come and play here because you're not vaccinated," he added. "There are other solutions around it, (such as) to get tested every day."
Despite calling for the Australian Open to be scrapped, Kyrgios said it was his favourite Grand Slam, but he has little love for the French Open.
"The Australian is my favourite Slam with the home crowd, the pressure is so different," he said.
"The French would be terminated from the calendar completely, it's the worst slam."