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- Serbian tennis player
With Novak Djokovic’s visa revoked for a second time by Australian authorities on Friday, throwing his appearance at this year’s Australian Open in limbo, it’s reasonable to wonder whether the international tennis star will run into similar problems at other events this year.
The next major tournament the Serbian is expected to play is the BNP Paribas Open, scheduled to begin March 7 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. After Indian Wells, Djokovic typically plays the Miami Open before starting the European swing.
But Djokovic, who is not among the more than 90 percent of players on the ATP Tour vaccinated for COVID-19, could run into issues playing at Indian Wells, a tournament he and Roger Federer have each won a record five times.
Though the tournament does not require vaccination for players to participate, the United States now requires visitors to be fully vaccinated to travel into the country by plane. U.S. citizens, permanent residents and those traveling on a U.S. immigration visa do not need to be fully vaccinated to fly into the country.
There are some exceptions to the mandate, though Djokovic’s troubles in Australia make it even more unclear whether he would qualify for one. It’s also reasonable to wonder if he would even consider trying, knowing it could result in a similarly drawn-out episode in a different country.
"Of course, I don't like the situation that is happening," sixth-ranked Rafael Nadal was quoted as saying last week. "In some way, I feel sorry for him. But at the same time, he knew the conditions since a lot of months ago, so he makes his own decision."
Djokovic, the top-ranked player in the world and a 20-time Grand Slam champion, has been a vaccine critic since the start of the worldwide pandemic two years ago. But his unvaccinated status did not prevent him from having one of the most productive seasons of his career in 2021.
Djokovic, 34, won the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon before falling in the U.S. Open to Russia’s Daniil Medvedev, which denied Djokovic of becoming the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win all four slams in the same year.
Djokovic skipped the BNP Paribas Open, which was canceled in 2020 and moved from March to October last year. He has not played at Indian Wells since 2019.
Djokovic arrived in Australia, a country with high vaccination rates that requires everyone entering the country be fully vaccinated, on Jan. 5 with an exemption to play in the Australian Open. But following an airport interview with border officials, Djokovic’s visa was canceled.
The tennis star remained at a hotel for refugees and asylum seekers for five days, waiting to see a judge. On Monday, a judge determined that Djokovic’s vaccination exemption was legitimate and reinstated Djokovic’s visa. The tennis star was then allowed into Australian Open facilities in Melbourne.
Then, on Friday, after Djokovic’s situation had been evaluated by Australian immigration minister Alex Hawke, Australian authorities again revoked Djokovic’s visa, stating that it was in the best interest of the public. Djokovic, through his attorneys, intends to appeal the decision.
Fourth-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas spoke about the situation during an interview last week with India's WION news channel.
"No one would have really thought, 'I can just come to Australia unvaccinated, and not having to follow the protocols that they gave me,' which — it takes a lot of daring to do, and (it's) putting the Grand Slam at risk, which, again, I don't think many players would do," Tsitsipas said.
The Australian Open begins Monday. Djokovic is aiming for what would be his 21st Grand Slam, which would give him more than any male in the sport’s history. He and rivals Federer and Nadal each have 20.
All of this is taking place as the omicron variant has swept across Australia and cases have surged in a country that has largely been closed to the rest of the world for the last two years.
Coachella Valley resident Mark Woodforde, a 17-time Grand Slam doubles champion and tennis analyst from Australia, traveled back from the U.S. last spring to see his parents and was forced to quarantine for two weeks in a hotel, at his own expense, and he was fully vaccinated and symptom-free.
Woodforde knows Djokovic and said Friday that he fully respects Djokovic’s decision to not receive the vaccination. But Woodforde was a bit incredulous about the spotlight Djokovic’s situation has shined on Australia.
“It’s a fiasco,” Woodforde said. “Why should he be allowed to enter when many of the Aussie population have endured severe restrictions? We abided by these protocols, so should Djokovic.”
Woodforde pointed to the fact that Djokovic played in Australia last year and said that he therefore should’ve been well aware of the protocols and expectations within the country. He said that this year Djokovic should have either complied with the vaccinated mandate or not apply for what Woodforde said was “a very gray and shady premise of a medical exemption.”
“Didn’t he see and feel the tough conditions Melbournians were living in?” Woodforde said. “Where is the awareness?”
Andrew John covers sports for The Desert Sun and the USA Today Network. Email him at email@example.com and find him on Twitter at @Andrew_L_John.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Novak Djokovic's visa issue could affect whether he plays Indian Wells