Novak Djokovic will be forced to sit out two of the biggest events on the tennis calendar for another year.
US President Joe Biden confirmed on Tuesday that the country’s state of national emergency for public health in response to COVID-19 will finally be lifted, but not until May 11.
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That means Djokovic will be free to make his US Open return at Flushing Meadows in September, but will still be locked out for ATP 1000 events at Indian Wells and Miami, which are among the biggest tournaments outside the four grand slams.
Djokovic was excluded completely from events in the US and Canada in 2022, during which time it was compulsory for overseas visitors to show proof of vaccination, which Djokovic has made no apologies for refusing.
The 22-time grand slam champion was asked about Indian Wells after his Australian Open triumph over Stefanos Tsitsipas.
“You know my position, so it is what it is. I’m hoping (to play), but if I can’t go, I can’t go,” he said.
Indian Wells tournament director Tommy Haas has been on the public record pushing for Djokovic’s presence at the Masters 1000 events in the US.
“It would be nice to see if we could maybe lift those (restrictions) a little earlier and have him come to play Indian Wells and Miami,” he said.
“I think he wants to play, so we should give him the chance. Hopefully, we can have him there.
“I mean, it would be a disgrace in my eyes if he wasn’t coming to these events, or not allowed to come.”
Regardless, Djokovic is as motivated as ever to push on for more grand slam titles in the twilight of his career.
Feeling at the peak of his powers, even at 35, the Serb isn’t ruling out sweeping past Margaret Court and becoming the most prolific grand slam singles champion of all time.
Forget his compelling race with Rafael Nadal for the men’s majors record, Djokovic plans on surpassing Court’s age-old benchmark of 24 singles slams and posting a number no tennis player will ever catch.
Djokovic’s 6-3 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (7-5) Australian Open final triumph over Stefanos Tsitsipas drew the Serbian powerhouse level with Nadal on 22, also matching Steffi Graf’s total haul.
Next up is Serena Williams’s 23, then Court’s 24, a once-untouchable target the Australian set half a century ago, in 1973.
“Of course I am motivated to win as many slams as possible,” Djokovic said when asked if he felt he could reel in Court – and then carry on.
“At this stage of my career, these trophies are the biggest motivational factor of why I still compete. That’s the case without a doubt.
“I still have lots of motivation. Let’s see how far it takes me. I really don’t want to stop here. I don’t have intention to stop here.”
Lauding his seemingly ageless charge for his fanatical approach to diet and training, Djokovic’s coach Goran Ivanisevic believes the father of two can play on for at least two or three more years.
But Djokovic, who ranked his 2023 Open campaign “in the top two or three” for his level of play despite carrying a hamstring injury for half the tournament, is placing no limits on himself.
“I feel great about my tennis. I know that when I’m feeling good physically, mentally present, I have a chance to win any slam against anybody. I like my chances going forward,” he said.
“I don’t know how many more years I’m going to play or how many more slams I’m going to play. It depends on various things. It doesn’t depend only on my body.
“It’s extremely important for me to be, of course, first to have the support and love from the close ones, and ability to go and play and keep the balance with the private life.
“But at the same time I have the mental clarity or – how should I say – aspirations to really strive to chase these trophies.
“Physically I can keep myself fit. Of course, 35 is not 25, even though I want to believe it is. But I still feel there is time ahead of me. Let’s see how far I go.”
Djokovic returned to world No.1 on Monday, replacing injured Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz, despite receiving no rankings points for winning Wimbledon and sitting out last year’s US Open – as well as missing the AO – for not being vaccinated against COVID-19.
His return to Roland Garros for the season’s second slam in May will be fascinating as Djokovic and 14-time French Open champion Nadal resume their ongoing majors title race.
– With AAP