It is probably the least unexpected news in tennis this year, but Novak Djokovic will not be able to play at the 2022 US Open.
The news that the CDC will not be changing its border control policy that states unvaccinated foreigners may not enter America has essentially brought an end to the matter. What it won’t do, of course, is bring about an end to the debate.
"Sadly, I will not be able to travel to NY this time for US Open,” Djokovic said on Twitter. “Thank you NoleFam for your messages of love and support.
"Good luck to my fellow players! I’ll keep in good shape and positive spirit and wait for an opportunity to compete again. See you soon tennis world!"
It’s a situation that has been the source of a lot of anger, especially from the legions of Novak Djokovic fans out there, and understandably so. There is a sense of injustice and victimisation. It is also important to stress that is not just borne of the US Open situation.
Djokovic has been unable to play in two Grand Slams now this year, and he didn’t receive any ranking points for the Grand Slam that he won.
Ultimately, we are not going to get involved in a critique of US border policy. We are concerned with tennis here, not politics. For the record, my own personal view is that the current vaccination requirement for foreigners to enter the US is too strict for this stage in the pandemic. However, my own views are not even remotely relevant here. Those elected to dictate US policy have done so, and it must be respected.
My overriding view in all this, though, is one of sadness, because there are simply no winners in all of this.
Yes, those who have a personal agenda against Djokovic – and let us not pretend they do not exist – will likely be buoyed by the news of him missing another major tournament. Remove that bias from the equation, though, and it’s not a good situation for anyone.
The US Open themselves would have wanted Djokovic to play. There have been suggestions that the fact the tournament has a current sponsorship with Moderna, who produce a Covid-19 vaccine, is cause to suspect a conflict of interest, but that’s a difficult argument to justify.
It’s important to remember that there is no vaccination mandate at the tournament. It’s a government policy that has prevented Djokovic from playing, not the tournament itself. They perhaps could have sought an exemption, but asking them to do so would be also asking them to declare a position on a political matter, so it’s not unreasonable at all that they declined to do that.
"Novak is a great champion and it is very unfortunate that he will be unable to compete at the 2022 US Open, as he is unable to enter the country due to the federal government's vaccination policy for non-US citizens,” a US Open statement read. “We look forward to welcoming Novak back at the 2023 US Open."
The idea that the US Open would have not wanted the reigning Wimbledon champion to play feels a little farfetched. And that is exponentially more so when we are also talking about arguably the best player in the world both right now and of all time too.
Simply put, the tournament – any tournament – has a lot more credibility with Novak Djokovic in it. As fans, we want to watch the very best players.
We also want to see the Grand Slam race between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic decided inside the tennis arena, not the political one. We deserve that. Tennis deserves that. The two players definitely deserve that.
There will be those celebrating Novak Djokovic not being able to play the US Open, make no mistake about it. I won’t be joining them, though. I feel nothing but sadness, and I would hope the majority of tennis fans felt the same.
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