W&S Open field officially includes Novak Djokovic—but will he play?

The Serbian tennis star remains outspoken in his refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Serbia's Novak Djokovic returns to Australia's Nick Kyrgios during the final of the men's...
Serbia's Novak Djokovic returns to Australia's Nick Kyrgios during the final of the men's singles on day fourteen of the Wimbledon tennis championships in London, Sunday, July 10, 2022.(AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Published: Jul. 19, 2022 at 5:17 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - The fields are out for the 2022 Western & Southern Open, and 21-time grand slam champion Novak Djokovic is expected to play.

The fields include the world’s top 41 men and 39 women, including No. 1 players Daniil Medvedev and Iga Swiatek as well as Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal. Nineteen grand slam champions will play in total.

But it’s Djokovic whose inclusion is raising eyebrows.

The Serbian, who did not play in Cincinnati last year, has been outspoken about his refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19. That stance figures to thwart his ability to play in this year’s North American hard-court swing, which includes ATP 1000 events in Montreal and Cincinnati before the U.S. Open.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, non-U.S. citizens must be fully vaccinated with the primary series of an accepted COVID-19 vaccine to travel to the United States by plane. Only limited exceptions apply.

Hours after he won his seventh Wimbledon title, Djokovic said he has no plans to get vaccinated and will not play in the U.S. Open unless the CDC’s restrictions change or he is given a medical exemption, according to ESPN.

“I’m not vaccinated and I’m not planning to get vaccinated so the only good news I can have is them removing the mandated green vaccine card or whatever you call it to enter United States or exemption,” Djokovic said Sunday, per the ESPN report. “I don’t know. I don’t think exemption is realistically possible. If that is possibility, I don’t know what exemption would be about. I don’t know. I don’t have much answers there.”

A tournament spokesperson provided FOX19 the following statement on Djokovic’s inclusion in the field:

“The United States government requires all non-citizens and non-residents to present a certificate of full vaccination from a CDC approved vaccine to enter the country. As an ATP 1000, it is automatic entry for men’s players. He did indicate at Wimbledon he is not vaccinated. However, should the United States policy change, he could then opt to play.”

Djokovic’s vaccination stance has caused headaches in the world of professional tennis. The 35-year-old’s absence from large tournaments leaves an unmistakable void, particularly in the context of an increasingly injury-prone Rafael Nadal (age 36) and an entirely absent Roger Federer (age 40.)

Then there’s the drama. Djokovic landed in Australia expecting to play in the Australian Open earlier this year. The immigration minister revoked Djokovic’s visa, placing the tennis star in temporary detention. He was eventually deported. The debacle drew international attention, dividing audiences and leaving a blemish on the sport.

Djokovic explained his reasoning to the BBC following the Australian Open: “I was never against vaccination,” he said, confirming he’d had vaccines as a child, “but I’ve always supported the freedom to choose what you put in your body.”

Djokovic is currently ranked No. 7, a partial result of the ATP stripping Wimbledon of its ranking points after the tournament banned Russian and Belarusian players due to the war in Ukraine.

The Western and Southern Open will take place Aug. 13-21 at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason.

All individual tickets for all sessions are on sale now. Multi-day ticket packages are sold out.

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