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Novak Djokovic’s vaccination status remains a roadblock for the U.S. Open

“Well, you’re right, as of today I’m not allowed to enter the States under these circumstances,” Novak Djokovic said Saturday. “Yes, of course, I’m aware of that.” (Paul Childs/Reuters)

WIMBLEDON, England — Wimbledon, long the third of the four major tournaments in any normal calendar year, apparently will end up as the latter of two for Novak Djokovic in 2022, a matter owing nothing to injury.

The issue came up at Djokovic’s pre-Wimbledon news conference, when the superstar fielded a question about his current inability to enter the United States for the 2022 U.S. Open, stemming from his status as unvaccinated against the coronavirus. While Djokovic has lost chances at major titles in recent years through unusual ways — a ball slammed in anger that happened to strike a lineswoman, necessitating default at the 2020 U.S. Open; a deportation from Australia over that country’s vaccination mandate before the 2022 Australian Open — here would come a fresh wrinkle of the latter.

Djokovic played the 2021 U.S. Open well into last September, reaching a men’s final he lost to Daniil Medvedev to nip his bid at a calendar Grand Slam. But a few weeks later, in late October, President Biden and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an order requiring a coronavirus vaccination for nonimmigrant noncitizens hoping to enter the United States.

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“Well, you’re right. As of today I’m not allowed to enter the States under these circumstances,” Djokovic said here Saturday. “Yes, of course, I’m aware of that. That is an extra motivation to do well here [at Wimbledon]. Hopefully I can have a good tournament as I have done in the last three editions. Then I’ll just have to wait and see. I would love to go to the States. But as of today, that’s not possible. There is not much I can do anymore. I mean, it’s really up to the U.S. government to make a decision whether or not they allow unvaccinated people to go into the country.”

Similarly, Djokovic won the 2021 Australian Open before limited crowds at a moment in history preceding the mass availability of vaccines but wound up dismissed by the Australian government in January 2022 once vaccines had proliferated and policies had adapted. That deportation came 11 days after Djokovic’s arrival in Australia and after 11 days of confusion and discontent from an Australian public that had endured difficult lockdowns. It added to Djokovic’s checkered record in the pandemic, coming 18 months after he organized a tennis exhibition with crowds during the covid-addled sporting dregs of the summer of 2020.

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As of June 12, the United States ceased requiring negative coronavirus tests for entry into the country but did not stop requiring full vaccination of noncitizen nonimmigrants. As Djokovic’s news conference concluded Saturday, a reporter asked a question that reminded the 20-time major champion of one potential outlet.

“About the U.S. Open, you said there’s nothing you can do at this point, but you do still have time to get vaccinated before New York to make it in time for the U.S. Is that something you’ve completely closed your mind to as an option going forward or …”

“Yes,” Djokovic said.

“It is [closed]?” the reporter said.

“Yes,” Djokovic said, before smiling.