Novak Djokovic could find himself ousted from the No. 1 ranking after he was this weekend banned again from entering the United States.
Djokovic’s bid to gain entry to the United States for ATP events at Indian wells and Miami received public support from the US Tennis Association and US Open organisers on Saturday, despite having the door slammed shut by government officials.
Republican Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio also sent a letter to President Joe Biden, urging the Biden administration to grant the 22-time Grand Slam champion a waiver.
The Serbian star is currently barred from entering the United States because he is unvaccinated against Covid-19, but has petitioned US authorities for special permission to enter.
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According to reports, his request centres on a declaration he has contracted the virus on two previous occasions, filing for a medical exemption on that basis.
The only good news for Djokovic is that he will be free to play the 2023 US Open, beginning August 28.
The United States still doesn’t allow unvaccinated international travellers to enter the country, with the Transportation Security Administration recently indicating the policy would not change until at least mid-April.
The White House announced last month the policy may not be scrapped until May 11.
The decision from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to deny his request has divided opinions with outspoken commentators declaring the 35-year-old is no longer a public health risk.
Tennis commentators have also voiced their support for Djokovic.
American tennis great Mardy Fish responded to the news on Twitter, writing: “What a joke”.
US political comedian Bill Maher said on HBO’s ‘Real Tim with Bill Maher’: “Imminent danger? Of a man playing tennis? Of a man who has had it twice?
“He’s standing alone. A sport where you stand alone in the middle of a stadium, outside, in a country where everyone has already had it. No imminent danger? This country is stuck on stupid, it just is.”
The US Open Twitter feed featured a post on Saturday saying American tennis authorities hoped he would be allowed to enter.
“Novak Djokovic is one the greatest champions our sport has ever seen,” the post said. “The USTA and US 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.”
The Indian Wells ATP 1000 event begins next Wednesday in the California desert and is followed by the prestigious tournament in Miami.
Djokovic, one of the highest profile figures to refuse the Covid-19 vaccine, has previously been banned from the country under its policy to close its border to all visitors yet to receive the vaccine.
Djokovic said in Dubai this week that he was still waiting to hear if the US would give him special permission to enter, telling reporters that he hoped to hear a decision before the Indian Wells draw is conducted on Monday.
“Whatever the decision is before the draw, if I’m not allowed, I’m going to pull out, of course, before the draw,” the world number one said.
Djokovic’s vaccination status saw him deported from Australia shortly before the 2022 Australian Open. After winning Wimbledon he also missed the US Open last year because of the travel restriction.
He returned to Australia in January, winning the 2023 Australian Open for a record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam singles title.
He took his match win streak to 20 in Dubai this week before falling on Friday to Daniil Medvedev in the semi-finals
— with AFP