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Novak Djokovic says he won’t play Indian Wells because CDC hasn’t changed regulations

“The CDC has confirmed that regulations won’t be changing so I won’t be able to play in the US,” Djokovic tweeted Wednesday. (Kamran Jebreili/AP)
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Novak Djokovic said Wednesday that he won’t be competing at this week’s BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed to his camp that existing coronavirus-related regulations will remain in place.

The longtime men’s No. 1, who fell to No. 2 last month amid a prolonged stretch of inactivity to start this season, has said he would not get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Djokovic was listed in the draw for the BNP Paribas Open, considered one of the biggest non-major tournaments on the tennis calendar, but it was uncertain whether he would be allowed to enter the United States for the ATP Tour event. He would have first had to clear a hurdle similar to one that created a weeks-long saga before the Australian Open in January that ultimately led to his deportation. Those who are not U.S. citizens or immigrants are required to show proof of full vaccination as well as a negative coronavirus test to enter the United States by air.

The Serbian star, a 20-time Grand Slam singles champion and a five-time winner at Indian Wells, said on Twitter on Wednesday that he “knew it would be unlikely I’d be able to travel” to the event in California and one in Miami later this month.

“The CDC has confirmed that regulations won’t be changing so I won’t be able to play in the US,” Djokovic tweeted. “Good luck to those playing in these great tournaments.”

Moments later, the BNP Paribas Open shared news of Djokovic’s withdrawal and announced that Grigor Dimitrov, a Bulgarian ranked 35th in the world, will move into Djokovic’s place in the draw. The berth in the tournament field vacated by Djokovic will be filled by a “lucky loser” from qualifying.

Daniil Medvedev, a 26-year-old Russian who supplanted Djokovic for the top spot on the ATP Tour, is seeded first at the BNP Paribas Open. Medvedev is playing in Indian Wells with no country affiliation because of professional tennis’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Djokovic loses No. 1 ranking after loss in Dubai

Late last month, Djokovic said he was aware he might not be allowed to play in the Indian Wells event. “I can’t enter [the] United States. As of today I’m not able to play. But let’s see what happens,” he told reporters. “Maybe things change in the next few weeks.”

Djokovic has remained opposed to being vaccinated against the coronavirus, saying that he is unconvinced by the science and is careful about what he puts in his body. However, he added in a recent BBC interview that it was a “misconception” that he is part of the anti-vaccine movement and he knows the matter is personal.

“I was never against vaccination,” he said. “I understand that, globally, everyone is trying to put a big effort into handling this virus. … But I’ve always represented and always supported the freedom to choose what you put into your body, and for me that is essential.”

The issue is so important to him, he said, that sacrificing the chance to play in future Grand Slams such as the French Open and Wimbledon was a price he was “willing to pay.” He had been tied with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer for the most men’s singles titles all-time with 20, but Nadal broke the tie with his victory in the Australian Open, the first Slam of the year.

In his first tournament of the year after he was forced to leave Melbourne, Djokovic lost in the quarterfinals last month to Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic in the Dubai Tennis Championships. He nearly completed a calendar sweep of the Grand Slam events last year, which was last accomplished by Rod Laver in 1969, before losing to Medvedev in the final of the U.S. Open.