In January, Novak Djokovic went before a panel of judges in Australia, searching for special permission to play tennis within the country while being unvaccinated against Covid-19. After a last-ditch hearing, he was turned away.
Since then, countries like France and Britain have relaxed their travel restrictions, which allowed Djokovic, who has had Covid-19 not less than twice but has steadfastly refused to get vaccinated, to compete. Yet on Thursday, Djokovic was forced to withdraw from the U.S. Open. Still not vaccinated, he was not allowed to return to Recent York.
The USA has lifted a lot of its restrictions related to the coronavirus and travel, but unvaccinated foreigners are still not allowed to enter the country, leaving considered one of the highest stars in men’s tennis unable to play in one of the vital vital tournaments of the 12 months.
“Sadly, I is not going to give you the chance to travel to NY this time for US Open,” Djokovic wrote on Twitter on Thursday morning, hours before the tournament’s organizers chosen matchups for the tournament, which is scheduled to start out Monday. He added: “I’ll keep in good condition and positive spirit and wait for a chance to compete again.”
In an announcement about Djokovic’s decision to tug out of the U.S. Open on the morning of the draw, Stacey Allaster, the tournament director, said it was “very unlucky that he can be unable to compete on the 2022 U.S. Open.”
Djokovic is the just one in the highest echelon of men’s singles players to stay unvaccinated. That call, criticized by other greats of the sport including Rafael Nadal, has sparked a clash pitting his stalwart beliefs in personal freedom and skepticism of established science against the politics and policies of international public health.
It has also turned Djokovic, not for the primary time, right into a lightning rod within the broader debate about Covid-19 restrictions. Long before scientists said it was secure to collect in large groups in 2020, he held a tennis exhibition that became something of a superspreader event in Serbia, his home country.
He has argued that vaccination needs to be a private decision slightly than a requirement to play, and earlier this 12 months said he was willing to skip Grand Slam tournaments and forgo championships to stay unvaccinated. On the Australian Open, with Djokovic absent, Nadal edged ahead of their generational battle for probably the most Grand Slam titles in men’s singles.
Djokovic’s refusal to be vaccinated set off a political firestorm in January. As he was boarding a plane for Australia, he announced he had qualified for an exemption to enter the country to play within the Australian Open, the primary Grand Slam tournament of the 12 months, because he had recently recovered from Covid-19.
On the time, Djokovic was following the principles that tournament organizers had provided, rules that had supposedly been approved by state and federal governmental authorities. Nonetheless, by the point his plane landed, the controversy had exploded on social media and reached the best levels of the Australian government.
Immigration officials detained him on the airport and sequestered him in a hotel for immigrants searching for political asylum. After a twist-filled ordeal, Djokovic ultimately left the country without defending his singles title from 2021. It ended with a ruling by a three-judge panel that affirmed the Australian government’s decision to cancel Djokovic’s visa, siding with the administration of Scott Morrison, the prime minister on the time, which said Djokovic’s celebrity threatened the country’s efforts to vaccinate its citizenry.
Because under Australian law any person whose visa has been canceled cannot return for 3 years, Djokovic will need a special exemption to get into the country for next 12 months’s Open.
After the debacle in Australia, Djokovic spent several weeks away from the sport, then resumed playing where he could.
“I used to be not feeling great generally,” he said of that point earlier this summer. “Mentally, emotionally, I used to be not at a great place. I desired to play, but at the identical time after I went out on the court in Dubai, was the primary tournament of the 12 months, I just felt a lot pressure and emotions happening. I wasn’t feeling myself on the court. I spotted at that time that it’s going to take a while, that I actually have to be patient, and ultimately I’ll get myself within the state, optimal state, where I would love to be.”
While many countries don’t require foreigners to be vaccinated, many still do, including the US and Canada. Health officials have said partly that folks who should not vaccinated risk hospitalization and death at much higher rates than individuals who have been vaccinated.
“I’m not vaccinated and I’m not planning to get vaccinated so the one excellent news I can have is them removing the mandated green vaccine card or whatever you call it to enter United States or exemption,” he said, adding, “I don’t think exemption is realistically possible. If that’s possibility, I don’t know what exemption can be about.”
The USA Tennis Association said earlier this summer that it might not seek an exemption on Djokovic’s behalf. “The U.S. Open doesn’t have a vaccination mandate in place for players, but it can respect the U.S. government’s position regarding travel into the country for unvaccinated non-U.S. residents,” the usT.A. said in an announcement announcing the tournament entry list in July.
Tournament officials and Djokovic’s team, nevertheless, remained in touch throughout the summer.
Djokovic has won the U.S. Open men’s singles title thrice, most recently in 2018, but has long had a prickly relationship with the event. He has often been booed and heckled by fans who see him as a tennis villain and an outsider within the rivalry between Nadal and Roger Federer.
In 2020, Djokovic was defaulted from the tournament after he swatted a ball in frustration, inadvertently hitting a line judge within the throat, in the primary set of his fourth-round match. He quickly apologized and accepted the ruling.
Last 12 months though, Djokovic finally achieved something that had remained elusive as he piled up championships.
He entered the U.S. Open with the prospect to brush all 4 Grand Slam titles in a single 12 months, something no man had completed since 1969. (Players were allowed on the tournament last 12 months just by testing negative.)
Djokovic made it all of the option to the ultimate, where Daniil Medvedev of Russia beat him in straight sets. But in the ultimate games, the group rallied behind Djokovic, the cheers growing louder and louder, bringing him to tears on a final changeover, when he sobbed right into a towel.
“My heart is stuffed with joy, and I’m the happiest man alive since you guys made me feel that way on the court,” he said in the course of the post-match award ceremony. “I never felt like this.”
The nice and cozy memories weren’t enough to steer Djokovic to get vaccinated, but they might have played a task in his timely withdrawal from the tournament. By pulling out before the draw, Djokovic helped organizers reset the seedings for the tournament without throwing it out of balance.
Djokovic, 35, is giving up a likelihood to attract even with Nadal for probably the most men’s singles Grand Slam titles. Nadal has 22 and Djokovic has 21.
While Djokovic has loads of critics inside and out of doors the sport for his refusal to get vaccinated, he does have support amongst some players, each current and former. John Isner of the U.S. has called his inability to compete ridiculous. Medvedev said Thursday that he wished Djokovic was in a position to play.
John McEnroe, the ESPN commentator and four-time U.S. Open singles champion, said Wednesday that “it’s a joke if he’s not allowed to participate here.”
“It’s been very unlucky for him and for tennis,” said McEnroe, who’s vaccinated and boosted. “It’s only a shame this whole 12 months.”