PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — World No. 1 Novak Djokovic has withdrawn from the BNP Paribas Open, the tournament has announced, marking the fourth consecutive year he will not play at the iconic Indian Wells tennis tournament.
Djokovic’s withdrawal comes little more than a week after the Serbian tennis star told reporters that he had applied for a waiver to bypass a mandate in the United States that all foreign travelers flying into the country be vaccinated for COVID-19. The mandate is set to expire May 11.
“It’s not in my hands,” Djokovic told reporters on Feb. 22. “I am waiting for an answer. All I know is that the process is ongoing, but I am glad I have the support of the tournament directors. I just hope that the third party, which makes the decision, will think the same.”
The BNP Paribas Open will run from March 6-19 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. With Djokovic’s withdrawal, Nikoloz Basilashvili, who is ranked 113, moves into the men’s draw.
Djokovic on Monday began his 378th week as No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings to overtake WTA legend Steffi Graf’s record for the most weeks spent at the top of the sport.
With his withdrawal, Djokovic, 35, is now the second high-profile men’s tennis player to withdraw from the highest-attended international tennis tournament outside of the majors. Rafael Nadal withdrew from the event on Feb. 28 due to a leg injury he suffered at the Australian Open, which Djokovic won to tie him with Nadal for most Grand Slam titles (22) in the history of men’s tennis.
Not having Djokovic, the top-ranked player in the men’s game, is surely a blow to this year’s BNP Paribas Open. Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer, who retired from playing last year, have been the biggest draws in the game for more than a decade.
In part because of COVID-19 and the travel requirement, Djokovic has not played at Indian Wells or the Miami Open, referred to as the Sunshine Double, since 2019. Indian Wells and Miami are the two largest American tournaments after the U.S. Open.
On Friday, the United States Tennis Association and the U.S. Open issued a joint statement advocating for Djokovic to be granted an exemption to enter the country and participate in its tournaments, starting this week with Indian Wells.
“The USTA and the US Open are hopeful that Novak is successful in his petition to enter the country, and that the fans will be able to see him back in action at Indian Wells and Miami,” the statement read.
Former world No. 2 Tommy Haas, the tournament director at Indian Wells, said publicly last month that it would be “a disgrace” if Djokovic was unable to play at Indian Wells and Miami due to the restrictions.
Haas has lobbied multiple organizations in an attempt to get Djokovic into the country, according to the New York Times.
Late last month, during a call with reporters, legendary player John McEnroe said that “it would be a damn shame” if Djokovic was unable to come to the U.S.
“This is a historic time in our sport, obviously, with him and Rafael both at 22,” McEnroe said. “It’s pretty interesting if you ask me.”
McEnroe added, “I think it’s a complete joke that he’s not allowed to play.”
Djokovic holds the best career win percentage (84.75%) at Indian Wells, having won the tournament in 2008, 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016. Djokovic also set the tournament record with 20 consecutive wins from 2014 to 2017.
Djokovic last played at Indian Wells in 2019. The tournament was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and opted not to play when it was postponed in 2021, from March to October. Due to the travel restriction, he was not able to enter the U.S. for the 2022 tournament.
Last year, Djokovic said that missing tournaments over his vaccination stance was, “the price I am willing to pay.”
Andrew John covers the BNP Paribas Open for The Desert Sun and the USA TODAY Network. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.