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Novak Djokovic Withdraws from Indian Wells After Failed Vaccine Exemption

The world's number one player, Novak Djokovic, has withdrawn from this week’s BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells after failing to obtain an exemption that would have allowed him to enter the U.S. without being vaccinated and participate in the first Masters 1000 tournament of the season. 

Djokovic's withdrawal gave Georgian player Nikoloz Basilashvili, a five-time ATP winner, a spot in the main draw at Indian Wells. The 31-year-old Basilashvili will now compete in Indian Wells' main draw for the sixth time.

Because of his decision not to get vaccinated, Djokovic is not permitted to enter the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mandates all foreign nationals to be fully vaccinated before entering the country.

The White House declared last month that it would review its travel policies following the official termination of the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration on May 11. For now, though, it plans to uphold the vaccine requirement for foreign arrivals. “This policy has allowed loved ones across the globe to reunite while reducing the spread of COVID-19 and the burdens it places on the health care system in the United States,” the White House said in a statement.

Djokovic had sought an exception, which is granted if a person's presence in the U.S. is assessed to be in the country's national interest. If granted, the vaccination waiver would have allowed him to play back-to-back matches of the Miami Open in Florida and the Indian Wells Open in California from March 19 to April 2. On Friday, Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott announced on Twitter that Djokovic's request had been turned down by US officials.

The inability of the reigning world champion to compete in both U.S. tournaments has attracted considerable attention. Both Florida senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott wrote to U.S. president Joe Biden in support of an exemption. On Tuesday, Florida Governor Ron Desantis wrote a letter to President Joe Biden, pleading with him to grant Novak Djokovic's request and ‘let him play’ in the Miami Open later this month. Governor DeSantis also criticized the Biden administration's immigration and COVID-19 vaccination policies in the letter.

In an uncommon move, the U.S. Open and Miami Open organizers also posted statements to their social media accounts on Friday to express their hope that Djokovic will be permitted to compete in the country. 

Last year, Djokovic waited until the last minute to withdraw from Indian Wells after the draw had already been announced. This year, Djokovic declared that if his application was not approved, he would pull out of Indian Wells earlier.

In addition to missing Indian Wells and Miami for two consecutive years because of his decision not to get vaccinated, Djokovic was also prevented from participating in the U.S. summer hard-court swing last year. Djokovic was also forced to miss the 2022 Australian Open when his visa was canceled by the Australian government after he had already arrived in Melbourne.

Despite having a light schedule this year, Djokovic returned to the top spot after winning his 22nd grand slam championship at the Australian Open. He surpassed Steffi Graf's record of 377 weeks at No. 1 to become the player with the most weeks at that position.

Djokovic would have been the favorite in Indian Wells even though he suffered his first loss of the year last week in the semifinal of Dubai against a resurgent Daniil Medvedev. Djokovic's absence means his standing is in jeopardy. Carlos Alcaraz, currently ranked as the world No. 2 player in men's singles, would return to the No. 1 spot if he wins the event.

Another contender for the world's number one spot in March is world No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas. To reach the top rank for the first time, Tsitsipas must win one title and reach one final during the swing.

Djokovic will not be playing for a few weeks due to his inability to participate in the U.S. tournaments. After losing to Daniil Medvedev in Dubai on Friday, Djokovic told reporters, "If there’s no America, I guess I’ll play clay. Monte Carlo is probably the next tournament. If that’s the case, I’ll take some time off, I’ll prepare.”

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