Novak Djokovic withdraws from Indian Wells; Ron DeSantis calls for vaccine exemption


Organizers of the upcoming ATP tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., announced Sunday evening that Novak Djokovic has withdrawn.

The withdrawal is an indication that the top-ranked Djokovic, a native of Serbia who is not vaccinated against the coronavirus, has been unable to enter the United States, with the Transportation Security Administration requiring that all foreign air travelers must show proof of vaccination in a rule that is in place at least through April 10. Djokovic said last month that he hoped to be granted an exemption by U.S. authorities so he could play at Indian Wells and later this month at the Miami Open.

Djokovic has yet to comment on his withdrawal from Indian Wells, which is scheduled to begin Wednesday and run through March 19.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Tuesday became the latest prominent politician to urge President Biden to grant Djokovic an exemption so the world No. 1 can play in the Miami Open, which is scheduled to take place in Miami Gardens, Fla., from March 19 to April 2.

Describing a reported denial by the Department of Homeland Security of Djokovic’s request as “unfair, unscientific and unacceptable,” DeSantis said to Biden in a letter that the Serb’s potential “presence in our country poses no meaningful health or public safety risk.”

“There can be no question,” DeSantis wrote, “that his inclusion in the Miami Open would be a tremendous boon both for this treasured tournament and the tennis community at large.”

Last week, Florida’s two senators sent a letter to Biden urging him to “promptly grant” Djokovic’s request for a vaccine waiver. Noting that Biden said in September that “the pandemic is over,” Republicans Rick Scott and Marco Rubio wrote that Djokovic is “a world-class athlete in peak physical condition who is not at high-risk of severe complications from covid-19.”

Djokovic, whose unvaccinated status left him unable to play in last year’s U.S. Open, “shouldn’t be prohibited from playing in the Miami Open because of unconstitutional vaccine mandates,” Rubio tweeted Friday.

Organizers for the U.S. Open, the nation’s Grand Slam event, voiced support for Djokovic as well, tweeting that Djokovic “is one [of] the greatest champions our sport has ever seen. The [U.S. Tennis Association] and U.S. Open are hopeful that Novak is successful in his petition to enter the country, and that the fans will be able to see him back in action at Indian Wells and Miami.”

ESPN analyst John McEnroe, who won seven Grand Slam singles championships, last month used the word “absurd” to describe Djokovic’s predicament, which dates from the 2022 Australian Open. “I have had my vaccines. I respect that he’s chosen not to do it. I would’ve done it, but that’s a whole other issue,” McEnroe told reporters. “He played [the U.S. Open] in 2021 and then wasn’t allowed to play in 2022 — someone explain that to me. And now he’s still not permitted to play? I mean, it’s absurd.”

Tommy Haas, a former player who is the tournament director at Indian Wells, said last week that he had been in touch with government officials but did not lobby on Djokovic’s behalf. “Novak’s situation is obviously frustrating for us,” Haas told the New York Times. “We want the best tennis player in the world to be here. He’s writing me. He wants to be here. So of course you’re like: ‘Okay, let’s try to make this happen. How can we figure this out that’s going to be realistic?’ But at the end of the day, unfortunately, that’s not in our hands and that’s what’s frustrating.”

Biden said in January he would end the national coronavirus emergency declaration May 11, but by then the men’s tennis tour will have spent weeks centered in Europe, with a series of clay court tournaments leading into the French Open, the second of the sport’s annual Grand Slam tournaments.

Djokovic, 35, is coming off his first loss of the season, a defeat to Daniil Medvedev in the semifinals of the Dubai Open that dropped the Serb’s record in 2023 to 15-1.

Djokovic won the Australian Open in January for his 22nd Grand Slam singles title, tying the men’s record set by Rafael Nadal. Last month, Djokovic set a record for men and women with the 378th week in his career that he entered ranked No. 1 in the world.

Among Djokovic’s 93 career ATP titles are five triumphs at Indian Wells, most recently in 2016. With Djokovic out of the tournament, officials said Nikoloz Basilashvili, a 31-year-old Georgian ranked 118th in the world, moved into the field.

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