His status as not vaccinated against Covid-19 still prevents Novak Djokovic from playing tennis in the United States: the world No.1 had to give up participating in the Masters 1000 in Indian Wells, for lack of having obtained special authorization to enter the territory.
“Novak Djokovic has withdrawn from the tournament” taking place in the Californian desert and which is due to start on Wednesday, the organizers announced on Sunday evening, in a short press release adding that the Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili will take the place of the Serb in the men’s table.
“Nole” had requested a special exemption from local authorities in recent weeks. “If it is refused to me, I will withdraw from Indian Wells of course, before the draw”, he had assured.
He had to come to terms with it. And if the authorities have not publicly communicated their response to his request, the reason for the forced absence of the co-recordman of the number of Grand Slams won (22, like Rafael Nadal), is hardly a mystery.
In recent days, many voices have been heard to plead his case. “It would be a shame in my eyes if he was not allowed to come” to the United States, said Tommy Haas, the Indian Wells tournament director.
The American Tennis Federation and the organizers of the US Open had done their best, supporting his approach. But without effect.
Djokovic will therefore not receive any preferential treatment from Washington, which does not allow entry into the country to unvaccinated international travelers. And the US Transportation Security Agency (TSA) recently indicated that this measure will not change until at least mid-April.
Also, in addition to the Indian Wells event which will end on March 19, Djokovic should, barring a reversal of the situation, have to give up participating in the other Masters 1000 which will follow, the Miami Open scheduled for March 22 to 2 april.
– See you this summer –
The 35-year-old Serb is certainly the most famous athlete to refuse to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
This caused him some big worries, even beyond the impossibility of participating in tournaments, since he had been expelled from Australia shortly before the 2022 edition of the Major in Melbourne, at the end of a judicial soap opera.
By trying to circumvent the vaccination obligation, then in force in Australia, with a derogation deemed unjustified by the Australian authorities, Djokovic had to spend a few days in a detention center, before having to leave the country.
The following months, he was not allowed to come to the United States to defend his chances at Indian Wells in the spring and the US Open in the fall. So much so that the last time he played a match on American soil was at Flushing Meadows in 2021, beaten in the final by the Russian Daniil Medvedev who deprived him of a calendar Grand Slam.
But as a champion, perhaps the greatest that tennis has ever produced, the Serb recovered from these setbacks and impediments, winning Wimbledon last year and above all returning through the front door to the Open in Australia in January, to win its 22nd Major.
His frustration at not being able to claim a sixth title at Indian Wells this year must be all the greater, as he is having one of the best starts to the season of his career, with another title obtained in Adelaide, before conceding his first defeat in 2023, this week, in the semi-final of the Dubai tournament, against Daniil Medvedev.
Djokovic will therefore still have to take his troubles patiently, before hitting balls in the United States. Probably this summer for the hard court tour which will culminate in the US Open.