Novak Djokovic’s apparent refusal to receive a coronavirus vaccination cost him the chance to compete for his 22nd Grand Slam singles title when he announced Thursday that he will not be able to participate in the U.S. Open that begins Monday in New York.
According to an update to international travel guidelines announced Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, non-U.S. citizens and non-U.S. immigrants still “must show proof of being fully vaccinated with the primary series of an accepted Covid-19 vaccine before you board your flight to the United States. Only limited exceptions apply.”
Djokovic’s refusal of the vaccine caused his deportation from Australia in January before he could make a bid to win his fourth consecutive Australian Open title. The three-time U.S. Open champion, who won the event most recently in 2018, was allowed entrance into France and England for the next two Grand Slam tournaments this spring and summer. At the French Open in Paris, he lost a four-set quarterfinal match to Rafael Nadal. In England, he won Wimbledon for a seventh time.
Asked by reporters in late June at Wimbledon whether he would continue to refuse vaccination given the potential cost of history-making major championships, Djokovic, who has twice had covid-19, said simply, “Yes.”
“I would love to go to the States,” he told reporters then, “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.”
Djokovic told the BBC in February that he “was never against vaccination,” adding that he had received childhood vaccines. “But I’ve always supported the freedom to choose what you put in your body.”
Djokovic said he had “always been a great student of wellness, well-being, health, nutrition,” and he based his decision partly on the changes he had seen in his performance after changing his diet and sleeping patterns.
“The principles of decision-making on my body are more important than any title or anything else,” he said. “I’m trying to be in tune with my body as much as I possibly can.”
The U.S. Open draw, which was released Thursday, now looks more favorable for Nadal, who won the 2022 Australian Open and has one more career title, with a record 22, than Djokovic. However, health has been a problem for Nadal, who withdrew from Wimbledon ahead of his semifinal against Nick Kyrgios because of an injury to an abdominal muscle.
The absence of Djokovic, the sixth-ranked player in the world, takes some of the luster from the U.S. Open, where Djokovic lost to Daniil Medvedev in last year’s final. John McEnroe, the ESPN tennis analyst and four-time U.S. Open champion, was characteristically blunt about Djokovic’s absence before it became official.
“I don’t think it’s fair,” McEnroe told reporters Tuesday. “I think it’s a joke. I would have had the vaccine and gone and played, but he’s got very strong beliefs and you have to respect that.
“At this point in the pandemic, we’re 2½ years in, I think people in all parts of the world know more about it, and the idea that he can’t travel here to play, to me is a joke.”
It may well affect Djokovic’s chances of finishing ahead of Nadal and Roger Federer in all-time Grand Slam men’s singles titles. Federer, who is recovering from knee surgery, is third with 20.
“That’s the question that we all want to know the answer to,” McEnroe said.