Tennis pro Novak Djokovic will not compete at the Indian Wells Open in California for a third consecutive year.
“World No. 1 Novak Djokovic has withdrawn from the 2023 BNP Paribas Open. With his withdrawal, Nikoloz Basilashvili moves into the field,” organizers confirmed late on March 5.
The statement did not provide further details as to why the 22-time Grand Slam champion and world No. 1 decided to formally withdraw from the tournament, also known as the BNP Paribas Open, and Djokovic has not yet publicly commented on the move.
However, the decision comes shortly after the Serbian native submitted an application to the U.S. government asking for special permission to enter the country and compete in back-to-back ATP Masters events at Indian Wells and Miami—two of the biggest tournaments on the tennis calender—amid a ban on entry for unvaccinated foreigners.
Djokovic, who is one of the highest-profile athletes unvaccinated against COVID-19, has said he would rather miss participating in future tennis competitions than be forced to get a COVID-19 vaccine because he supports “the freedom to choose what you put in your body.”
In January, the Biden administration extended the vaccine mandate requirement for foreign air travelers until at least the early spring. It is widely expected to be lifted when the administration ends its COVID-19 emergency declarations on May 11.
GOP Lawmakers Rally Behind Djokovic
Play in the combined ATP-WTA event begins on March 8 at Indian Wells Tennis Garden and runs through March 19.
Prior to the announcement from event organizers on Sunday, Sen. Rick Scott, (R-Fla.) wrote on Twitter on Friday that Homeland Security had rejected Djokovic’s vaccine waiver request, leaving him ineligible to compete in the upcoming U.S. tournaments.
“Joe Biden must fix this now, grant the waiver and allow him to compete here in the states,” Scott wrote.
Scott had also joined fellow Republican Senator Marco Rubio in penning a letter (pdf) to President Biden urging the administration to grant Djokovic a waiver.