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How Novak Djokovic's US Open participation has turned into a political mess with clear lines of division

Novak Djokovic's US Open participation has turned into a huge political mess in the tennis world
Novak Djokovic's US Open participation has turned into a huge political mess in the tennis world

In the aftermath of his Wimbledon 2022 win, Novak Djokovic made it very clear that he would continue to remain unvaccinated, even if it meant foregoing a trip to New York for the US Open.

Speaking at his press conference after the four-set win against Nick Kyrgios that gave him his 21st Grand Slam title, the Serb remarked that he had absolutely no plans to go back on his stance regarding the COVID vaccination. "My body, my choice" was going to be his only war cry, despite the US government banning unvaccinated travelers from entering the country.

The 35-year-old admitted that the only way into the US was if the Biden administration changed their entire pandemic protocols, going as far as to accept that the chances of that happening were remote. But even then, with characteristic determination, the World No. 7 stood steadfast in the decision that has already robbed him of one Grand Slam participation.

"I'm not vaccinated and I'm not planning to get vaccinated," Djokovic said. "The only good news I can have is that they eliminate that protocol that only people who are vaccinated or have some exemption can enter the country. I do not know if it will be possible."

So began an endless stream of diverse opinions on the matter.

On the one hand, the former World No. 1's stubbornness invited its fair share of criticism from a good part of the fan community, who were dismayed at the idea of one of the best players of all time losing valuable playing days over such an unfathomable choice.

The US Open has confirmed Novak Djokovic isn’t allowed to play because he refuses to get a covid shot that doesn’t work. Now tens of thousands of tennis fans are signing a petition arguing to let Novak play. outkick.com/petition-to-le…

It is not surprising, considering that almost 97% of the Top-100 ATP players are vaccinated. And none of the others who refused to get vaccinated are as dominant as Novak Djokovic. So why then should the 21-time Grand Slam champion subject himself to a fate that can be avoided with something as simple as the jab of a needle?

On the other hand, the 35-year-old also received enormous backing from his fans, with many praising their hero for sticking to his guns even in the face of non-stop public backlash.

“My body my choice”But Novak Djokovic is banned from participating in US Open for being unvaccinated. “His body my choice”#LetNovakPlay

Understandably, the pundits got in on the debate as well, siding with the 21-time Grand Slam champion for the most part. Seven-time Major winner John McEnroe was one of those strongly in favor of Djokovic being allowed to play in New York, remarking that it was "ridiculous" to prevent him from winning another Slam title this year.

"These politicians are getting in the way too much – they did it in Australia." McEnroe said. "Let [Novak Djokovic] come in and play in the US. I mean come on. This is ridiculous. You can agree to be tested. There’s got to be a way around this."
Goran Ivanisevic: "In the Aus Open, French Open and Wimbledon there were players who tested positive for Covid-19 but still competed. Then why can't Djokovic play in the US Open?" 😮

World No. 137 Flavio Cobolli echoed a similar sentiment, stating that it was preposterous to imagine one of the best players in the world being denied the chance to stake his claim for a Grand Slam title, especially with the pandemic nowhere close to what it was a year ago.

“I'm not sure, but I believe that seeing the strongest player in history being out of the top 20 at the end of the year is not good for tennis and will certainly weigh on us all," Cobolli said.

American broadcaster Mike North also joined the cry for allowing the World No. 7 into Flushing Meadows, calling the decision to keep Djokovic out of the tournament a "joke." North referred to a video of illegal immigrants entering the US to drive home the point, arguing why that would be perfectly fine for officials while the former World No. 1's entry was deemed unacceptable.

Let @DjokerNole play in the @usopen! The U.S. Open cheapens itself when it bans one of the best players in the world.

This became a common thread among those siding with Djokovic, as the debate surrounding his US Open participation turned wildly political in the following days. Prominent anti-vaxxers in and around the country propped up the 35-year-old as a beacon of free will and made use of the opportunity to condemn measures introduced by the US government that they did not agree with.

Julia Hartley-Brewer absolutely owns Piers Morgan in this debate over Novak Djokovic’s participation in the US Open. @JuliaHB1 https://t.co/Shu8yK2tMg

Talkshow host Jake Crain declared that the decision to deny entry to Djokovic was motivated purely by politics, reasoning that politicians did not want to "admit defeat" by letting an unvaccinated player on their shores.

"The decision to not let [Novak Djokovic] play is purely political. Yet again we let politicians make everything so toxic that nobody can move or make a decision without judgement," Crain said. "They know Djokovic is not a threat to get anybody physically ill at the US Open. But if they let him play, it's like admitting defeat after the fear mongering that even continue to plague our everyday life to this day,"

Clay Travis, one of the most prominent conservative figures in the United States, also gave his two cents on the issue, calling the decision an "absolute mockery of science." Travis went on to state that having any COVID restrictions at this point was inadmissible, thus using an argument that would appeal immediately to his loyal supporters.

"There should be no COVID restrictions whatsoever at this point in time for any athlete playing any sport anywhere in the country, and, I believe, anywhere in the world," said Travis. "And the fact that we are not allowing Djokovic the opportunity to travel to America to play the US Open is an absolute mockery of science, and it is indefensible."

Richard Grenell, former acting director of US National Intelligence and another political conservative, joined the cause as well, saying the New York Major cheapened itself by not allowing Novak Djokovic to play in the event.

Congresswoman Claudia of the Republican party raised a similar argument, as did conservative radio host Charlie Kirk.

So Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) won't be allowed to play in US Open because he refuses to have an irreversible medical treatment -- yet this Biden administration encourages and helps millions of illegal aliens to invade our country with no similar vaccine requirements?

Senator Rand Paul, once again a conservative belonging to the Republican party, praised Djokovic for exercising his "medical freedom," while Republican Senator Drew Springer drew more comparisons to the arrival of illegal immigrants into the country. US Senator Ron Johnson of the Republican party also hailed the Serb while admonishing the presence of vaccine mandates in the country, as did Senator and fellow Republican Marsha Blackburn.

Dr. Peter McCullogh, a well-known promoter of misinformation during the COVID pandemic, also came to the Serb's aid, sensationally claiming that Djokovic was right not to get vaccinated since they can cause heart attacks. Of course, the statistic was wildly misrepresented and not substantiated by any means, but his loyal follower base ate up the information without question.

US Trade Rep just tested positive for Covid. She’s fully vaccinated and boosted and just returned from fully vaccinated Canada. Unvaccinated Novak Djokovic just won Wimbledon, but US Open may prohibit him from playing because he’s at risk of infecting the vaccinated. INSANITY! https://t.co/iMDtT95NBK

Another notable figure who turned up to support the 21-time Grand Slam champion in this debate was Ramesh Thakur, a former United Nations Assistant Secretary-General.

Thakur, writing for the Brownstone Institute, used several statistics to debunk the "myth" that vaccines were doing enough to curtail the spread of the virus to warrant a mandate, comparing his deportation from Australia to "medical tyranny" and authoritarianism at its worst.

NEW: John McEnroe on Biden not allowing unvaccinated Djokovic into America to play in the US Open: "These politicians are getting in the way too much. They did it in Australia. Let's let the guy come in and play in the U.S. I mean, c'mon, this is ridiculous!"

While he hoped America would reject another such fiasco, he did not think it was likely and went on to blame the government for "stubbornly ignoring" hard data and evidence.


Novak Djokovic on provisional US Open entry list, but coach Goran Ivanisevic doesn't think he will be allowed to play

Novak Djokovic is on the provisional entry list for the US Open.
Novak Djokovic is on the provisional entry list for the US Open.

Novak Djokovic's name features in the recently published entry list for the 2022 US Open. At the same time, the tournament organizers accompanied the announcement with a caveat, saying that they would still comply with the US government's decision on vaccine mandates.

Goran Ivanisevic, the Serb's long-time coach, therefore reckons his entry will eventually be barred, sarcastically commenting in a recent interview that the Croatia Open Umag was more likely to grant himself a wildcard before Djokovic would be allowed to play at Flushing Meadows.

"I don't know about the US Open, it's difficult for me. I am more optimistic that director Tomislav Poljak will give me an invitation and that I will win Umag, than that they will let [Djokovic] go to the US Open," Ivanisevic said.
Congratulations to Novak Djokovic, 7 time Wimbledon champion. Absolute disgrace he is banned from competing at the US Open, depriving Americans of seeing a legend purely due to the political agenda of the Biden administration.

Admirably, the 21-time Grand Slam champion has taken the situation in his stride, commenting that it's "not the end of the world" if he isn't able to compete in New York. Reiterating his "respect" for everyone's freedom to choose what they think is best for themselves, Djokovic only wants others to extend the same courtesy to him as well.

"I have my stance, and I am proponent always for freedom to choose what is best for you," Djokovic said. "And I respect everything and everybody, and I expect at least people to respect my decision. If I have a permission, I'll be there. If I don't, I'll not be there. It's not the end of the world."

In a way, it is hard not to like someone who is as clear-cut in their decisions as Djokovic is. Whether he will show up at the end of August at the US Open or not - and chances are that he might not - there is something to admire about the 35-year-old and his commitment to his principles.

Unvaccinated fans can attend the U.S. Open. Why can't Novak Djokovic? | Opinion newsweek.com/unvaccinated-f…

But make no mistake, the situation has been politicized beyond belief, even more so when compared to what went down in Australia at the beginning of the year. The narrative is becoming increasingly twisted along the lines of innate political biases present in the country, meaning that the individual in the middle of all this is getting lost in the story.

At the end of the day, the 21-time Grand Slam champion only wants one thing -- to be allowed to play the sport he loves. Thanks to forces outside his control, however, he is being made into something more, and is getting criticized, as a result, for things he never endorsed.

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Edited by Anirudh
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