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“World No. 1 Novak Djokovic has withdrawn from the 2023 BNP Paribas Open. With his withdrawal, Nikoloz Basilashvili moves into the field,” organizers confirmed late on March 5.
The statement did not provide further details as to why the 22-time Grand Slam champion and world No. 1 decided to formally withdraw from the tournament, also known as the BNP Paribas Open, and Djokovic has not yet publicly commented on the move.
However, the decision comes shortly after the Serbian native submitted an application to the U.S. government asking for special permission to enter the country and compete in back-to-back ATP Masters events at Indian Wells and Miami—two of the biggest tournaments on the tennis calender—amid a ban on entry for unvaccinated foreigners.
Djokovic, who is one of the highest-profile athletes unvaccinated against COVID-19, has said he would rather miss participating in future tennis competitions than be forced to get a COVID-19 vaccine because he supports “the freedom to choose what you put in your body.”
In January, the Biden administration extended the vaccine mandate requirement for foreign air travelers until at least the early spring. It is widely expected to be lifted when the administration ends its COVID-19 emergency declarations on May 11.
GOP Lawmakers Rally Behind Djokovic
Play in the combined ATP-WTA event begins on March 8 at Indian Wells Tennis Garden and runs through March 19.
Prior to the announcement from event organizers on Sunday, Sen. Rick Scott, (R-Fla.) wrote on Twitter on Friday that Homeland Security had rejected Djokovic’s vaccine waiver request, leaving him ineligible to compete in the upcoming U.S. tournaments.
“Joe Biden must fix this now, grant the waiver and allow him to compete here in the states,” Scott wrote.
Scott had also joined fellow Republican Senator Marco Rubio in penning a letter (pdf) to President Biden urging the administration to grant Djokovic a waiver.
“In September 2022, you plainly declared to a national audience on 60 Minutes that ‘the [COVID-19] pandemic is over,’ and, earlier this year, Dr. Anthony Fauci published a professional article acknowledging the limited efficacy of vaccines in protecting against respiratory pathogens, like the novel coronavirus,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter.
“In light of these changing circumstances, and admissions by you and members of your own administration, the current restrictive vaccine mandate which you have maintained for international travelers entering the United States seems outdated and worthy of rescission,” they added.
Djokovic Returns to Australia
Indian Wells tournament director Tommy Haas, the United States Tennis Association, and the U.S. Open had also voiced support for Djokovic to be able to enter and take part in the tournaments.
After losing in the semifinals of the Dubai Tennis Championships on Friday to Daniil Medvedev, Djokovic had said he was still waiting to hear if Washington would grant him permission to enter the United States.
“Whatever the decision is before the draw, if I’m not allowed, I’m going to pull out, of course, before the draw,” the sportsman said.
Djokovic was deported from Australia shortly before the 2022 Australian Open after having his visa canceled by Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke on Jan. 14 that year. At the time, Australia had some of the strictest COVID-19 vaccination border entry requirements in the world.
However, he returned to Australia in January this year, winning the 2023 Australian Open for a record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam singles title.
The tennis pro would have been a heavy favorite to win his sixth Indian Wells title this month.
The Epoch Times has contacted a spokesperson for Djokovic for comment.
By Katabella Roberts