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Novak Djokovic to headline Tel Aviv tournament after US Open withdrawal

The tennis star, who has refused COVID vaccine, will play in the Tel Aviv Watergen Open tournament beginning September 26

Defending men's champion Serbia's Novak Djokovic practices at the Rod Laver Arena ahead of the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, January 12, 2022. (Mark Baker/AP)
Defending men's champion Serbia's Novak Djokovic practices at the Rod Laver Arena ahead of the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, January 12, 2022. (Mark Baker/AP)

Novak Djokovic’s team has confirmed the tennis legend will take part in the Tel Aviv Watergen Open 2022, after he was forced to pull out of the US Open last week due to being unvaccinated against the coronavirus.

Foreign citizens who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 are currently unable to enter the US or Canada, and Djokovic has said he won’t get the shots, even if that prevents him from playing in certain tournaments.

The US Tennis Association has said all along it will follow government rules about vaccination status for this year’s Open. There is no vaccine mandate at the tournament for players or their support teams — meaning that an unvaccinated American would be allowed to compete — and spectators will not be required to wear masks.

“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,” said Stacey Allaster, the US Open tournament director. “We look forward to welcoming Novak back at the 2023 US Open.”

The Serbian tennis star also missed the Australian Open in January, despite claiming to have received a government exemption to play in the tournament without proof of vaccination.

After ongoing legal battles, Djokovic was eventually deported from the country on the eve of the tournament.

Djokovic, 35, will be competing in his first tournament in Israel for 16 years. His last competitive matchup was a Davis Cup match played in Ramat Hasharon in 2006.

Djokovic has spent more weeks at No. 1 than anyone else in the history of the ATP rankings. He is No. 6 this week, in part because no rankings points were awarded at Wimbledon this year.

The Serbian sits on 21 grand slam titles, one behind Spanish rival Rafael Nadal, after he defeated Australia’s Nick Kyrgios 4–6, 6–3, 6–4, 7–6 in the Wimbledon final in June. He also competed in this year’s French Open, but lost in the final to Nadal.

However, Djokovic’s opportunities to expand his trophy cabinet have been severely hampered by his inability to access tournaments played in countries with strict vaccination requirements.

The tournament in Tel Aviv will take place at the Expo Tel Aviv compound from September 25 to October 2.

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