“Sadly, I will not be able to travel to NY this time for US Open,” he wrote. “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!”
The reason, of course, is that Djokovic is not vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, and current U.S. rules require that non-U.S. citizens be vaccinated in order to receive a visa and enter the country.
Djokovic is a proponent of “natural healing” and has made a rather public—some would say reckless—display of being unvaccinated during the pandemic, including hosting an Instagram Live chat with Chervin Jafarieh, a snake-oil salesman who claimed COVID was damaging people’s immune systems due to a mental “state of fear”; hosting a series of packed Adria Tour exhibition matches in his native Serbia in June 2020 (the tour was eventually canceled after a number of players, Djokovic, his wife, and his coach all contracted COVID); and confessing to falsifying a travel document to Australian officials, which got him deported just before the Australian Open in Melbourne.
Earlier this week, I spoke with tennis legend John McEnroe about the controversy over whether Djokovic would play in the U.S. Open, which runs from Aug. 29 to Sept. 11 in Flushing, New York.
“I think it’s bullshit that he’s not allowed to play, to be blunt,” McEnroe told me. “I think it’s quite a gutsy stand, in a way, to do what he’s doing, because he’s potentially sacrificing being unequivocally the best ever, since he got thrown out of Australia… If he’s not in New York, this is another one that he could have won. So he’s risking something, but that’s also what made him so great.”
McEnroe continued: “This idea that after everything we’ve gone through after a couple of years, I thought it was a total debacle and an absolute shitshow that he got thrown out of Australia the way he did. That was absurd.”
I noted that Djokovic is not only unvaccinated but as The New York Times reported, “acknowledged… that a travel document he presented to Australian border officials... contained false information” and that he “said that he had participated in an interview and a photo shoot... in his native Serbia even after testing positive for the coronavirus.” (In other words, while he was COVID-positive.)
Most damning, however, was what happened on Dec. 17, 2021. That day, Djokovic attended a packed tennis event in the Serbian capital of Belgrade where he presented awards to young children. He claimed that he took a rapid antigen test that came back negative and that the results of his PCR test—showing he was COVID-positive—only came back after the event, but as The New York Times reported:
A copy of his medical certificate for his positive P.C.R. test said that the test was taken at 1:05 p.m. on Dec. 16 and that the positive result was returned at 8:19 on the same day. In an affidavit provided to an Australian court, he said, “On 16 December 2021, I was tested and diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 (COVID).” It was unclear when exactly he learned of his purported positive test.
To this, McEnroe replied, “Well, I’m not 100 percent sure that’s true,” adding, “He’s a smart guy. I saw him at Wimbledon. If he was COVID-positive and he knew that that would risk whether he could play in Australia or not for a story in some magazine, do you think there would be any chance in hell he would do it? I just don’t believe he would be that stupid. And he hasn’t admitted to it.” (Djokovic has admitted to being COVID-positive during the interview and photo shoot, which took place on Dec. 18, 2021, saying he felt “obliged” to do it as it would “fulfill a longstanding commitment”.)
“If I were him, I would’ve just taken the shot,” McEnroe added. “But that’s just me. I’ll leave it at that.”
As for the 2022 U.S. Open, Stacy Allaster, the tournament’s director, said in a statement: "Novak is a great champion and it is very unfortunate that he will be unable to compete at the 2022 US Open, as he is unable to enter the country due to the federal government's vaccination policy for non-US citizens. We look forward to welcoming Novak back at the 2023 US Open."
This is a small portion of our longer interview with John McEnroe, which will be published next week.