Novak Djokovic’s Slam year is over as he has officially withdrawn from the US Open, which is the fourth and final Grand Slam tournament of the year.
The 21-time Grand Slam champion’s participation in the event had been in doubt for months due to his Covid-19 vaccination status. According to rules in the United States, unvaccinated foreigners are currently not allowed into the country and travelers are required to show proof of full vaccination to board flights.
Last month, the tournament released a statement, saying it would respect the USA’s Covid-19 vaccination rules for this year’s event.
“Per the Grand Slam Rule Book, all eligible players are automatically entered into the men’s and women’s singles main draw fields based on ranking 42 days prior to the first Monday of the event,” the statement read. “The US Open does not have a vaccination mandate in place for players, but it will respect the US government’s position regarding travel into the country for unvaccinated non-US citizens.”
Djokovic has been opposed to receiving the vaccine, stating that he was willing to forego tournaments and potential titles over the vaccine.
“Because the principles of decision making on my body are more important than any title or anything else. I’m trying to be in tune with my body as much as I possibly can.” Djokovic said in an interview in February.
Due to his unvaccinated status, Djokovic missed the Australian Open in January after being deported. He was also unable to play at the Miami Open and very recently, the Cincinnati Masters.
While Djokovic was aware of the rules, the 35-year-old waited till the very last minute before officially withdrawing from the US Open less than two hours before the draw was made, hoping the US government rules would change as some point. Nothing changed, however, and the Serb’s hopes of matching Rafael Nadal’s record of 22 Grand Slam titles have been derailed for now.
“Sadly, I will not be able to travel to New York this time for the US Open. 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!” Djokovic wrote on Twitter.
There have been mixed reactions regarding Djokovic being unable to contest for a fourth title at Flushing Meadows, and some of his fans took to social media to express their grievances. Some have said they would be boycotting the tournament completely, while others say the tournament will not be the same without the highly-supported Serbian.
Some former and present players have also shown support for Djokovic, opposing the rules.
“I don’t think it’s fair. I think it’s a joke,” said former World No.1 John McEnroe. “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 two-and-a-half 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.”
Current World No. 48 John Isner called it “complete lunacy” that Djokovic is not allowed to play, and the likes of Reilly Opelka and Taylor Fritz have also defended the three-time US Open champion on social media.
Djokovic has also received criticism for waiting till the last minute before withdrawing. Journalist Ben Rothenberg called the Serbian’s actions a “selfish route”. Britain’s Liam Broady, also against Djokovic’s decision-making, tweeted, “There should be a rule against late withdrawals from slams when you know you aren’t going to play.”
With the US Open being the last Slam tournament of the year, Djokovic will now look to next year’s Australian Open where it is still not certain he will be able to play. Deportation orders in Australia usually include a three-year ban from the country, and although that part of the rules can be waived, nothing has been said concerning it yet. If the ban sticks, the 2023 French Open will be his next Slam destination.
Other notable players missing from the US Open Men’s Draw:
Alexander Zverev: The World No.2 withdrew from the tournament as he looks to fully recover from the horrific ankle injury he suffered during his French Open semifinal match with Rafael Nadal in June.
The 2020 US Open runner-up required surgery to fix multiple torn ligaments in his right ankle but has been making progress in recovery.
“It was a very tough decision, but the way the recovery is going, and how well everything is going, I just don’t want to take the risk and play a best-of-five set match as my first match back.” Zverev said.
Gael Monfils: After being sidelined from the French Open and Wimbledon due to a foot injury, the Frenchman returned to action in Montreal after recovering from surgery. He however suffered a relapse during his fourth round match against Jack Draper and was forced to end the match abruptly.
“Dear all, following the latest medical exams that I took upon returning in Europe, I will sadly not be able to play at the US Open this year,” said the World No. 25 on social media.
“I am forced to undergo a new period of treatment before being able to resume tournaments. I will keep you informed as soon as I can with regards to my next tournament.”
Reilly Opelka: The American did not give the exact reason for pulling out, but after missing Masters 1000 events in Montreal and Cincinnati, his participation at the US Open was in doubt. Following his official withdrawal, fans are left to speculate.
Despite the withdrawals, especially Djokovic’s, the US Open men’s draw remains a packed, star-studded one. Djokovic’s absence at any tournament is a blow just the same though, considering he is one of the greatest in the history of the sport.