Sports Desk, Mar 9 (EFE).- Serbian tennis great Novak Djokovic confirmed Wednesday that he will be forced to miss a pair of ATP Tour Masters 1000 hard-court events this month in Southern California and South Florida due to US rules barring the entry of travelers who are not vaccinated against Covid-19.
Djokovic, who lost his No. 1 ranking last month due in large part to his being barred from competing at the Australian Open in January (where he was the defending champion), will now have to skip the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, and the Miami Open – events he has won a combined 11 times.
“While I was automatically listed in the @BNPPARIBASOPEN and @MiamiOpen draw I knew it would be unlikely I’d be able to travel,” the world No. 2 wrote on Twitter. “The CDC has confirmed that regulations won’t be changing so I won’t be able to play in the US. Good luck to those playing in these great tournaments.”
The BNP Paribas Open, which kicked off this week, also confirmed that the 20-time Grand Slam champion and five-time Indian Wells winner will not participate in this year’s edition of the tournament.
“Novak Djokovic has withdrawn from the BNP Paribas Open. As the next player in line to be seeded, Grigor Dimitrov will move into Djokovic’s space in the draw, and a Lucky Loser from qualifying will move into Dimitrov’s space in the draw once qualifying is complete,” the tournament said in a statement.
Djokovic made headlines worldwide earlier this year when he became locked in a visa battle with Australian authorities.
The Serbian had been granted a medical exemption to participate in the Australian Open – a hard-court tournament in Melbourne that is the first Grand Slam event of the tennis season – after he tested positive for the coronavirus in mid-December.
But upon arrival in Australia the winner of a record nine singles titles in Melbourne was detained and his visa was revoked.
The logic given for canceling Djokovic’s visa was that allowing him to remain in the country would galvanize anti-vaccine sentiment; upon appeal, a three-judge panel agreed that Immigration Minister Alex Hawke had acted within the bounds of the law.
Djokovic’s refusal to get vaccinated – and countries’ unwillingness to make exceptions to their rules and allow him to enter their territory and compete – could affect tennis history.
At the start of the year, the 34-year-old Serbian appeared to be in pole position in his Grand Slam battle with fellow all-time greats Rafael Nadal, 35, and Roger Federer, 40, who then were in a three-way tie with 20 major titles apiece.
But Djokovic’s absence cleared the way in Melbourne for Nadal, who rallied from two sets down to defeat Russian Daniil Medvedev (who became No. 1 on Feb. 28) in the final to capture his second Australian Open and become the first men’s player ever to win 21 Grand Slam singles titles.
Looking ahead to the rest of the season, it appears likely Djokovic will be able to defend both his French Open and Wimbledon titles.
His participation at Roland Garros in late May and early June had seemed improbable until the French government announced last week that starting March 14 it will no longer require proof of vaccination to enter the country.
But with no sign that the CDC will ease its vaccination rules any time soon, Djokovic may be forced to miss the US Open in late summer. EFE