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Tennis

Novak Djokovic denied COVID-19 vaccine exemption, to miss Miami Open

Novak Djokovic, who is not immunized for COVID-19, was denied permission to enter the United States to play in tournaments at Indian Wells or Miami .Kamran Jebreili/Associated Press

Tennis star Novak Djokovic will miss the Miami Open after failing to get an exemption under coronavirus vaccine rules to enter the United States.

The world No. 1, who is not vaccinated against the coronavirus, had hoped US authorities would grant him an exemption so he could play at Indian Wells and the Miami Open. The Transportation Security Administration requires proof of vaccination from air travelers under a rule in place through at least April 10.

But Miami Open director James Blake said that while the tournament had tried to secure entry for the 35-year-old Serbian star, “that wasn’t able to happen.”

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“We run one of the premier tournaments in the world. We’d like to have the best players that can play … And we did all we could, tried to talk to the government, but that’s out of our hands,” Blake told Tennis Channel on Friday.

“We’d love to have him, and he’s our greatest champion. He’s won six times here … But unfortunately, that’s way above my pay grade,” he added.

Tournament officials in Indian Wells, Calif., also said Djokovic had withdrawn this month.

Politicians, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, have recently urged President Biden to exempt the top-ranked player so he could compete in the Miami Open, set to take place March 19 to April 2 in Miami Gardens, Fla. Florida’s two Republican senators had also asked Biden to accept the request for a vaccine waiver.

Officials at the US Open, the country’s Grand Slam event, had expressed support for Djokovic, tweeting that they were “hopeful that Novak is successful in his petition to enter the country.”

The athlete’s unvaccinated status amid coronavirus restrictions left him unable to play in last year’s US Open. He was deported from Australia in January last year in a saga that divided his fans and detractors as health officials globally encouraged vaccination to fight the spread of the deadly virus. A mandatory vaccine requirement did not apply for entry to Britain, and Djokovic went on to successfully defend his men’s singles title at Wimbledon last July.

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In interviews last year, Djokovic said he was not part of the anti-vaccine movement but that he supported the freedom to choose.

Health officials say people who are vaccinated and boosted not only have protection from serious illness themselves but also help protect the more vulnerable, including the immunocompromised.