Florida Senators Urge President to Let Unvaxxed Djokovic Compete in Miami Open

Novak Djokovic plays in a semifinal match of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis tournament on March 03, 2023.
Novak Djokovic plays in a semifinal match of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis tournament on March 03, 2023. Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images
Two Republican U.S. senators from Florida are urging the president to grant top-ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic a COVID-19 vaccine waiver to compete in the upcoming Miami Open.

Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio sent a letter to President Joe Biden on March 3, asking him to waive the U.S. administration's international-travel vaccine requirements for Djokovic, whose refusal to get jabbed against COVID-19 has led him to miss several big-name tournaments over the last two years.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration recently extended the COVID-19 vaccine requirement for incoming international travelers until April 10. 

The two stateside tournaments Djokovic had hoped to play in this month are the Indian Wells Masters in California, which kicked off March 6, and the Miami Open starting March 19.

Rubio and Scott are urging Biden to "promptly grant Djokovic a waiver" so that he has a shot to compete in Miami.

"It has come to our attention that your administration is in receipt of a request to waive the current vaccine mandate for international travelers entering the United States from top-ranked men’s tennis player Novak Djokovic," the letter (attached below) reads. "We write to urge you to grant the requested waiver, which is necessary to allow Mr. Djokovic to compete in the Miami Open professional tennis tournament held in our home state of Florida."

The Department of Homeland Security previously rejected Djokovic's vaccine waiver request, according to Scott, which would have allowed him to play at the back-to-back tournaments.

Djokovic, who missed last year's U.S. Open and Australian Open because of his vaccination status, has made it abundantly clear that he's willing to sacrifice participation in Grand Slam tournaments in order to remain unvaccinated.

The tennis legend was deported from Australia in January 2022 after the country's immigration minister revoked his visa amid controversy over his vaccination status. In advance of the 2022 Australian Open, the country had granted him a waiver based on his immunity from his COVID-19 infection in late 2021. But the minister indicated that allowing Djokovic to remain in the country to compete in the tournament could spark anti-vaccine sentiment.

In the aftermath of the controversy, Djokovic told the BBC, "I was never against vaccination... But I've always supported the freedom to choose what you put in your body."

His decision to remain unvaccinated sparked controversy in tournament-hosting countries worldwide and drew criticism from a few tennis greats including Martina Navratilova.

"I admire him so much but I can’t defend the choice to not get vaccinated," Navratilova said last year. "You have to take one for the team."

On March 3, the United States Tennis Association and the U.S. Open said they were hopeful Djokovic would be allowed to play the Indian Wells and Miami Open events. Two days later, on March 5, he withdrew from the California tournament.

Djokovic, 35, a Serbian-born tennis player, is currently ranked No. 1 in the world. In January, he won the Australian Open for his 22nd Grand Slam singles title –– tying the men's record set by Spanish tennis legend Rafael Nadal.

The last time he competed at the Miami Open, he was knocked out in an early round in 2019 by Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut in three sets.
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Alex DeLuca is a staff writer at Miami New Times.
Contact: Alex DeLuca

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