Novak Djokovic has withdrawn from Indian Wells on the eve of the tournament draw, with the tennis World No.1's bid to gain entry to the United States reportedly knocked back by government officials. Although the US will relax laws banning unvaccinated travellers from entering the country before the US Open later this year, Djokovic's bid for a vaccine waiver has nevertheless been rejected.
Though the reigning Australian Open champion is a near certainty to return to the US in New York later this year, fans will still be kept waiting for his first appearance in the nation since 2020. That last visit ended in controversial circumstances for Djokovic, who was defaulted from the grand slam after striking a lineswoman in the neck with an errant ball hit in frustration between points.
Republican senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott wrote to US President Joe Biden to personally lobby for the World No.1 to be granted an exception, however officials did not relent. It comes after Djokovic returned to Australia earlier this year, having been deported 12 months prior after arriving without a valid vaccine exemption and subsequently having his visa cancelled.
The waiver denial will also see Djokovic miss the accompanying tournament comprising the 'Sunshine Double', with the World No.1 to miss the Miami Open as well. Nikoloz Basilashvili has been announced as Djokovic's replacement in the draw.
Fans on social media were left disappointed by news of Djokovic's absence from the two tournaments, despite few being surprised given his ongoing refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
ATP 1000 Indian Wells has announced the withdrawal of #1 Novak Djokovic, who still cannot legally enter the United States due to his remaining unvaccinated.
Djokovic withdrew this time before the draw is made (tomorrow), unlike last year when he waited until after it was made.
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) March 6, 2023
Novak Djokovic has withdrawn from Indian Wells.
Despite the public efforts of the tournament and the USTA, it appears no exemption was granted by US authorities.
Likely to be the same for Miami. New York six months away, but up in the air.
— The Tennis Podcast (@TennisPodcast) March 6, 2023
Sadly, Novak Djokovic, one of my favourite tennis players, won't be able to travel to the US to play Indian Wells and Miami. I think that, at this stage of the pandemic, the restrictions should be over (they should've been over a long time ago tbh). I'll miss him there. pic.twitter.com/tmrf6TGitI
— El Joker Vaisin (@vaisin98) March 5, 2023
If Novak Djokovic doesn’t play in Indian Wells and Miami, Carlos Alcaraz needs to win IW to get back to number one. And then to win Miami to keep it. So the Sunshine double…
And that’s what Tsitsipas pretty much needs to be #1 as well https://t.co/qUzE8KQPvf
— José Morgado (@josemorgado) March 5, 2023
As per reports coming from the USA, Novak won't be allowed to compete at this years Indian Wells and Miami tournaments.
I think that's a unfair decision, but at this point that it's also a good thing to concentrate and focus on clay.
Come back even stronger!#NoleFam #Djokovic pic.twitter.com/D3EDZ9ocf2
— Wolfy (@BigBadWolfWolfy) March 4, 2023
According to this from US senator Rick Scott, the Department of Homeland Security denied Novak Djokovic's exemption request to be allowed in the country this month in order to play the ATP Masters 1000 in Indian Wells and Miami. https://t.co/CnXSSm01Jh
— Gaspar Ribeiro Lança (@gasparlanca) March 4, 2023
No one from Djokovic's team was immediately available to comment on the withdrawal. Indian Wells tournament director Tommy Haas, the United States Tennis Association and the US Open were among those also hoping the 22-time grand slam champion would be allowed to enter.
Senator Scott called for President Joe Biden to intervene and overhaul the denial so Djokovic can compete at the 'fifth grand slam'. "Joe Biden must fix this now, grant the waiver and allow him to compete here in the states," he wrote.
Novak Djokovic decision met with dismay by US fans, rivals
Towering American star John Isner slammed the decision. "Don't worry guys, on May 11th he will be deemed safe enough to enter the USA," Isner said in a tongue-in-cheek dig at the restrictions.
John McEnroe has previously stated it would be a shame if Djokovic is still banned from playing tennis in the US by the time Indian Wells arrived. Djokovic was also barred from playing the US Open last year.
The World No.1 took a few weeks off after injuring his hamstring at the Adelaide International, which hampered him during the Aus Open. Djokovic refused to go into detail about his hamstring injury in a recent press conference as he shut down questions on the mysterious setback.
During his break, the 35-year-old Serb broke the record for the most time spent at No.1 in the professional tennis rankings by a man or woman. And on Wednesday, a rusty Djokovic fought off a spirited Tomas Machac to win 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 in Dubai.
Djokovic was forced into a third set and pushed all the way to a tiebreak. However, the World No.1 lifted his game in the penultimate points to make sure he wasn't on the end of an upset in Dubai.
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