Novak Djokovic, who was last seen winning the Australian Open with a three-centimeter tear in his hamstring, returned to the tennis court this week, working his way across the court at the Dubai Championships as he usually does.
But with the tennis calendar getting serious again, with two of the most important tournaments outside of the Grand Slam tournaments scheduled for California and Miami later this month, it looks like the Djokovic train is destined to stop.
Djokovic, again the world No. 1 singles player, desperately wants to play next week at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, and later this month at the Miami Open. In recent weeks, he has sought waivers from the rule that bars people who are not permanent residents of the United States from entering the country if they have not been vaccinated against Covid-19.
To the dismay of Djokovic and some of the sport’s biggest names, things are not going well, and time is running out for Djokovic to withdraw from the tournament before his inability to play leaves a giant hole in the top quarter of the tournament. Arch.
John McEnroe, seven-time Grand Slam singles champion and television commentator, called Djokovic’s inability to play in the United States “silly. If President Biden doesn’t change his mind – and that’s what it will take at this point – Djokovic has to drop out by Sunday or the player ranked less than 100 points could end up a favored spot on the tie-breaker, Tommy Haas, tournament director, Indiana. Wells, in an interview on Wednesday.
Haas, a former world number two who is from Germany, has been putting pressure on various organizations to try and find a way to get Djokovic into the United States. The United States Tennis Association has been in touch with its government contacts but has stopped officially lobbying on Djokovic’s behalf.
“Obviously Novak’s situation is frustrating for us,” said Haas. “We want the best tennis player in the world to be here. He’s texting me, he wants to be here. So of course, you’re like, OK, let’s try to make it happen. How can we know 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.”
A Djokovic spokesman did not respond to an email seeking comment. Djokovic said earlier this week that he was still awaiting a ruling on his application for an exemption.
“Everything is in the process right now,” Djokovic said late last month in Belgrade, Serbia. “I have a great desire to be there.
Djokovic, who has won Indian Wells five times, has not explained why he thinks he should qualify for an exemption. He has not been vaccinated but the only reason he gave for choosing it is because he believes people should have the right to decide whether to get vaccinated.
Djokovic’s situation isn’t the only troubling development for Indian Wells.
Rafael Nadal, who is still recovering from a leg injury sustained in the second round of the Australian Open, pulled out earlier this week. Nadal hates the absence of Indian Wells, not only because he won the tournament three times. Nadal often stays at the home of Larry Ellison, the founder of the Oracle technology company that owns the tournament, and Nadal also gets to play a lot of golf on downtime.
In another worrying development for both Indian Wells and tennis, during a match in Rio de Janeiro last weekend, 19-year-old Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz aggravated a hamstring strain that kept him out of the Australian Open. The injury forced him to withdraw from a tournament in Acapulco, Mexico, this week. Alcaraz wowed the crowd by winning the US Open in September, the last time he competed in America.
Even without some of the biggest stars, Indian Wells will always be one of the highlights on the schedule. Players frequently rate the tournament among the best in the world. It is a destination for locals and tourists. It appears that the snow has been removed from Southern California for the time being. The vast majority of the nearly half a million fans who attended the two-week event (including the playoffs) come from outside the Palm Springs area.
It also helps that tennis in the United States is in the midst of a mini-boom. The USTA announced last month that participation grew in 2022 for the third year in a row, with more than 1 million new participants. Overall, 23.6 million people played tennis at least once in 2022, an increase of 5.9 million, or 33 percent, since the start of 2020, when the pandemic drove hordes of new and former players into the sport.
However, barring a last-minute policy change or a decision to grant an exception, the guy who plays sports better than everyone else wouldn’t be there.
It is not clear why Djokovic thinks he might be eligible for an exemption. The only criteria he appears able to meet include demonstrating that receiving the vaccination would be detrimental to his health or that his presence in the United States “would be in the national interest, as determined by the Secretary of State, Secretary of Transportation, or Secretary of Homeland Security (or their designee)”, According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Last month, the House passed a bill repealing the vaccination requirement 227-203, with seven Democrats joining all the Republicans who voted for it. Supporters of the bill said US policy is out of line with the rest of the world, as vaccination requirements for foreigners have largely disappeared. The Senate did not vote on the matter, which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will not automatically expire in May when the Biden administration plans to end declared national and public health emergencies for Covid-19 in 2020.
Ending the vaccination requirement for foreign travelers would likely require a separate order from President Biden ending the presidential proclamation he put into effect.
In the absence of Djokovic, Nadal and perhaps Alcaraz, at least for the other players, there is a glimmer of hope, said Indian Wells tournament director Haas.
“If you’re an upcoming Young American, I’m like, ‘Listen, this is the time for me to raise a trophy,'” Haas said. “Now from my point of view as a tournament manager and one of the best players they can’t compete here, obviously it’s a sad thing, a frustrating thing.”
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