Tennis fans have hit out at US authorities for denying Novak Djokovic an exemption to compete at the Miami Open, which gets underway next week. Tournament director James Blake said organisers of the American hard court tennis event tried everything in their power to secure an exemption so the World No.1 could compete.
The Serb is not vaccinated against Covid-19, meaning Djokovic is currently forbidden from entering the USA as an unvaccinated foreign traveler. Those restrictions are due to end in April, and the 35-year-old had hoped to gain special dispensation to play in the US this month.
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The Serb was already forced to pull out of Indian Wells, meaning he could be replaced as World No.1 if semi-finalist Carlos Alcaraz is able to win the Masters 1000 tournament. Djokovic was hoping for a different outcome for the Miami Open, but has once again been left disappointed by the decision from US authorities.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis had been lobbying hard for Djokovic to be granted an exemption to play in Miami after tweeting: "The only thing keeping Novak Djokovic from participating in the Miami Open tennis tournament is President Biden’s misguided and unscientific COVID-19 vaccination requirement for foreigner travelers. Mr. President – lift your restrictions and let him compete."
The Florida Governor even made a wild claim that he would smuggle the Serb into the USA via boat, after taking aim at the Biden administration's ban on unvaccinated foreigners arriving into the country on planes. “I would run a boat from the Bahamas here for him. I would do that a hundred percent,” DeSantis said at a recent press conference.
However, efforts to allow Djokovic to enter the United States have ultimately proved fruitless. Miami Open tournament director James Blake confirmed that the 22-time grand slam champion would be unable to participate, due to his unvaccinated status.
"We're one of the premier tournaments in the world, we'd like to have the best players that can play," Blake said in an interview with the Tennis Channel. "We did all that we could. We tried to talk to the government, but that's out of our hands. We tried, and he wasn't able to play.
"Same result that he had in Indian Wells, where I know (fellow tournament director) Tommy Haas did as much as he could. We tried to get Novak Djokovic to be allowed to get an exemption, but that wasn't able to happen.
"We'd love to have him, and he's our greatest champion, he's won six times here. Unfortunately, that's way above my pay grade."
Tennis world reacts to announcement on Novak Djokovic
News of Djokovic's Miami Open withdrawal left his legion of fans understandably gutted. Many critics have taken to social media to label it "embarrassing" that Djokovic is being refused entry into America, when the country is so close to lifting restrictions, arguing that he poses little threat to the wider population.
Novak Djokovic has officially pulled out of the Miami Open https://t.co/jOBn0txBqG
— Yasmin Syed (@yasminstefsyed) March 17, 2023
Tennis is being undermined by the United States government. Disallowing the number one player in the world, Novak Djokovic, from competing because of Covid is embarrassing and archaic. Bring out the asterixis. https://t.co/TaXBThCeD7 pic.twitter.com/R4CFBvJ3SM
— Charles BisbeeMD (@cabisbee) March 17, 2023
This guy just told Novak Djokovic that it isn't safe for him to play tennis this week.....but it's safe for him to play in July😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂☺️😂☺️😂☺️☺️😂😂☺️ pic.twitter.com/Mf5ygbcSML
— The Gambling Tailor (@KingTailorGang) March 17, 2023
It’s March of 2023 and virtually everybody in the U.S. has had Covid or been vaxxed. Yet Biden admin still maintains we are under a Covid emergency and won’t allow unvaxxed Novak Djokovic who’s had Covid 2/3 times into the country to play tennis. Much more than a mistake.
— Toby T (@Tobizoid) March 17, 2023
No… Tennis is “Not” in good hands when, for political reasons, players like Novak Djokovic are prevented from playing at tournaments like Indian Wells.
— Mike_D_123 (@MikeD1235) March 17, 2023
Djokovic's opposition to being vaccinated saw him miss six high-profile tournaments in 2022, including the Australian Open and US Open. He was allowed to compete at Melbourne Park this year after Australia lifted restrictions, and the 35-year-old went on to claim a record-extending 10th Australian Open crown to equal Rafael Nadal's all-time men's record of 22 major titles.
The Serb, who suffered a first defeat of the season to Daniil Medvedev in the semi-finals of the ATP event in Dubai, is set to return to action on clay at the Monte Carlo Masters, beginning on April 9. He's also set to be joined by 11-time champion Rafael Nadal, who hasn't played on the ATP since suffering a hip flexor injury at the Australian Open in January.
"Rafa was the first [player] to be registered," Monte Carlo tournament director David Massey said. "He really wants to play at the Monte Carlo Masters and is giving himself every chance to take part in the tournament he's so fond of."
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