Why did Novak Djokovic withdraw from Indian Wells?

A delighted Novak Djokovic Credit: Alamy
A delighted Novak Djokovic Credit: Alamy

Many are asking the question: Why did Novak Djokovic withdraw from Indian Wells?

The state of play in 2023 means that this question is not simply answered without ruffling a few feathers.

In a gross oversimplification, there are two clear schools of thought, each with its own rationale and particular narrative view.

On the one hand, some will tell you that Novak Djokovic withdrew from Indian Wells because he doesn’t want to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The United States still has a vaccine requirement for the issue of visitor visas and entry into the country by air.

It is true that Djokovic does not want to be vaccinated and has made it clear that he will not budge on the issue.

The other camp has been massively critical of the government of the United States for continuing to require vaccination against the virus of those who wish to enter the country.

Djokovic applied for a special exemption, but his application was denied.

Those critical of an ongoing ban on unvaccinated travellers have also pointed out that not having the World No 1 at big international events held in the United States hurts those tournaments and organisers.

The tournament directors of Indian Wells and the Miami Open threw their weight behind Djokovic alongside the United States Tennis association, but their pleas fell on deaf ears.

One of the loudest voices calling for Djokovic to be allowed to play has been John McEnroe, who feels that the Serbian has his reasons for digging in his heels.

“It’s BS,” McEnroe told Fox Digital during the 2022 US Open. “I think he should be allowed to play.

“My personal opinion is, I’ve been vaccinated, I’ve had a booster shot. That’s up to the individual.

“He’s won a lot more majors than me because he’s dug his heels in and found that will, that very few people in sport have ever found. That’s part of what made him so great, so he sticks to his guns.”

The vaccine requirement is set to fall away on 11 May of this year, and while organisers of the ATP Tour events and Novak Djokovic himself hoped that decision might be moved up, once it became clear that wouldn’t happen, the world No 1 entreated officials to make an exception to the rules.

Despite offering support for his request, Novak Djokovic would be left hanging on until Monday, 6 March, before it was confirmed that he wouldn’t be allowed in and was forced to withdraw from the Twin ATP 1000 tournaments.

Without inside knowledge, we cannot say if Djokovic has a valid reason for refusing to be vaccinated, nor can we set ourselves up as arbiters of what would constitute a valid reason.

The chronic respiratory ailment he suffered from at the start of his career might form part of his reasoning on the matter, but that is not something the man himself has ever claimed.

Missing both ATP 1000 events will leave Djokovic vulnerable to losing his No 1 ranking and might prompt him to enter the Monte Carlo Masters which he missed last term due to travel restrictions.

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