The U.S. Open, one of the tennis world’s four most prestigious tennis tournaments, included Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic on its official men’s singles entry list on Wednesday – with a disclaimer that, should he not participate, it is due to Chinese coronavirus vaccination policies under leftist President Joe Biden.
The Serbian Djokovic – who has won more Grand Slam tennis tournaments than any other player in history save for Spaniard Rafael Nadal – has refused a Chinese coronavirus vaccination and stated publicly that pressure by foreign governments to ingest a pharmaceutical product would not convince him to get the shot, although he remains “open” to the possibility. Djokovic is one of a small number of players on the professional tennis circuit not to receive any doses of a vaccine or vaccine candidate against the Chinese coronavirus.
Djokovic’s vaccine status became an international scandal in January after Australia granted him a legal visa to enter the country — with an exemption to the vaccine requirement — then abruptly imprisoned him in a migrant detention facility after pro-vaccine protesters condemned the government for allowing him in. Canberra ultimately deported him – despite larger, pro-Djokovic protests outside of the prison housing him – on the grounds that his presence in the country would “excite anti-vaccine sentiment,” clearing the way for Nadal to win the Australian Open. Australian officials admitted that he had entered the country with a legal visa but blamed a “computer” for giving it to him.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) dictate that non-U.S. citizens are not allowed into the country if not vaccinated for Chinese coronavirus unless they fall into one of a small number of exemptions, none of which Djokovic appears to fit into. He stated following his victory at Wimbledon that he did not expect to be allowed into America or play the U.S. Open, which he has won three times.
Djokovic appeared as the number seven rank on the U.S. Open entry list, the same ranking that he maintains on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Tour. Rankings are affected by the number of tournaments a player participates in, so Djokovic’s is significantly deflated by his vaccination status keeping him out of several countries hosting major tournaments.
The tournament issued a statement distancing itself from the potential absence of any player from the U.S. Open on the grounds of vaccination status, laying the blame on the federal government.
“The US Open does not have a vaccination mandate in place for players, but it will respect the U.S. government’s position regarding travel into the country for unvaccinated non-U.S. citizens,” tournament organizers said.
According to the CDC, “at this time all noncitizen nonimmigrant air passengers traveling to the United States, regardless of antibody status, are required to provide proof of [Chinese coronavirus] vaccination.”
“If you are not fully vaccinated against [Chinese coronavirus], you will NOT be allowed to board a flight to the United States, unless you meet the criteria for an exception under the Proclamation and CDC’s Amended Order. A booster dose is not needed to meet this requirement,” the agency emphasizes on its website.
The CDC lists several exemptions to this rule, none of which appear to apply to Djokovic. For example, someone can receive an exemption on the grounds that they are a citizen of a country where coronavirus vaccines are not available, which is not an issue for the Serbian national. The U.S. government may also grant exemptions on “humanitarian” grounds – for example, Afghan refugees desperately fleeing execution under the Taliban – or with proper documentation of “medical contraindications.”
“Persons whose entry would be in the national interest, as determined by the Secretary of State, Secretary of Transportation, or Secretary of Homeland Security (or their designees),” also qualify, though those individuals – Antony Blinken, Peter Buttigieg, and Alejandro Mayorkas, respectively – have not commented on Djokovic and do not have any apparent motive to grant him an exemption.
The vaccine requirement as currently implemented for entry into the U.S. for non-immigrant foreign nationals was implemented under Biden in April 2022.
Djokovic has already missed two significant tournaments this year in America, the Indian Wells tournament and the Miami Open, as a result of Biden administration restrictions, ESPN observed on Wednesday.
Australia had a similar system in place in January when it allowed Djokovic into the country, only to imprison and deport him despite a valid visa. Djokovic had reportedly applied for a medical exemption to the requirement on the grounds that he had recently tested positive for Chinese coronavirus. The Australian Open, like the U.S. Open, placed him on the official entry list. Unlike the U.S. Open, however, the Australian Open used Djokovic’s expected presence for publicity purposes.
“Defending champion Djokovic will play for an incredible 10th Australian Open trophy — and a men’s record 21st major singles title — and will be the favourite in a draw which showcases 49 of the world’s top 50 including world No.2 Daniil Medvedev, who beat top-ranked Djokovic in this year’s US Open final,” a December 2021 press release from the tournament read.
Medvedev is currently the top-ranked player in the ATP. He was not allowed to compete in Wimbledon on the grounds that he is a Russian citizen; Russians and Belarusians were banned from the tournament in protest of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine – a move the All England Club did not make during the other seven years of the eight-year-old invasion.
Following his victory at Wimbledon this month, Djokovic told reporters that he would not get vaccinated solely to play in the U.S. Open, which is typically held in Queens, New York, during the last week of August and the first week of September.
“I’m not vaccinated and I’m not planning to get vaccinated so the only good news I can have is them removing the mandated green vaccine card or whatever you call it to enter United States or exemption,” Djokovic said after winning his seventh Wimbledon. “I don’t know. I don’t think exemption is realistically possible. If that is possibility, I don’t know what exemption would be about.”