By DUSAN STOJANOVIC
BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Novak Djokovic has asked American authorities for special permission to enter the United States to play tennis tournaments in California and Florida despite being unvaccinated against the coronavirus, the top-ranked Serb said Wednesday.
The Transportation Security Administration has said the requirement for foreign air travelers to be fully vaccinated against the disease would be in place at least until mid-April. The tournament in Indian Wells will be played from March 6-19 and the Miami Open is scheduled from March 20-April 2.
“Everything is currently in the process,” Djokovic said at his training ground in Belgrade. “I have a big desire to be there.
“I am really thankful to the Indian Wells and Miami tournament (officials) and community for their support publicly and they would like me to be able to play in their tournaments.”
Djokovic is one of the most high-profile athletes who is unvaccinated against COVID-19.
Last year, the 35-year-old Djokovic was deported from Australia ahead of the Australian Open because of his vaccination status. Djokovic returned to the tournament in January after Australia lifted its strict vaccine mandate to win his 22nd Grand Slam title, tying the record with Rafael Nadal.
Djokovic said Wednesday that Nadal remains his biggest on-court rival despite the rise of 19-year-old Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, who had been at the top of the rankings before a leg injury prevented him from playing at the Australian Open.
″(Alcaraz) is arguably the next biggest thing in our sport, or he’s already there.” Djokovic said. “I just feel that the rivalry with Nadal is something that is difficult to eliminate.
“Nadal has been the biggest rival and he probably will remain the biggest rival I ever had in my in my career.”
Djokovic reached another milestone in his tennis career this week by tying German great Steffi Gaff with 377 weeks at the top of the world rankings.
“Obviously, Steffi Graf is one of the biggest legends of our sport, both men and women tennis, and someone that I truly admire and respect,” Djokovic said. “So, of course, it’s very flattering that I am able to equal her record and obviously have a possibility to break it as well the next week.”
Djokovic said his next tournament will be next week’s Dubai Open.