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US Open says it could not have applied for an exemption to let Novak Djokovic play
American player Tennys Sandgren claimed the USTA didn’t try to help Djokovic to play this year’s event
The USTA says it could not have applied for an exemption for Novak Djokovic to play in this year’s US Open, even it it had wanted to.
Djokovic is barred from travelling to the United States because he is not vaccinated against Covid-19 (the current rule applies only to non US-citizens), which means he will miss a second Grand Slam event of 2022, having been sent home from Australia in January.
The clarification comes one day after American player Tennys Sandgren claimed that the US Open and USTA “didn’t try to get an exemption for Novak” in an interview with L’Equipe.
But in an e-mailed answer to Tennis Majors on Friday, the USTA said the rules on exemptions had changed from the policy that was in place in 2020 and 2021, leaving it with no power to ask for exemptions.
“The USTA was in regular contact with several departments within the United States Federal Government including the Department of Homeland Security, Customs & Border Control and the State Department,” the statement said.
In all instances, we were informed that the US Government was no longer considering third party applications for National Interest Exemptions.The USTA to Tennis Majors
“In all instances, we were informed that the US Government was no longer considering third party applications for National Interest Exemptions.
“Only NIE’s submitted by the individual seeking the NIE would be reviewed by the appropriate department or authorities regarding entrance of unvaccinated non-U.S. citizens.
This policy, instituted in October 2021, differed from the policy that was in effect during the 2020 and 2021 US Opens.”
Tennis Majors has reached out to Djokovic, who has reiterated he will not be vaccinated against Covid-19, to ask if he applied for an exemption personally.
Sandgren criticises rule, hypocrisy
Sandgren, who is also not vaccinated against Covid-19, said the rule stopping unvaccinated non-citizens entering the USA was “stupid”, when inside the United States, almost all restrictions have been lifted. Sandgren said the USTA should have tried to help Djokovic.
“We didn’t really try,” he said in words natively reported in French. “They didn’t try to get an exemption for Novak. For the past two years, they’ve done everything they could to make the tournament happen. The 2020 US Open was one of the strangest tournaments in history. No fans, all the players gathered in a hotel with no way out – if you stepped outside the allowed area, you were out of the draw. It was extremely strict. The organisers were in constant contact with the State of New York and the health authorities to make sure the tournament went ahead. And they succeeded. They fought hard to make it happen. But now, for Novak, their speech is: “We have to apply what the government tells us, we can’t do anything. It’s not coherent.
I know that a player is not more important than a tournament, but it was worth a try, wasn’t it? The US Open has been fighting for two years to get exemptions.Tennys Sandgren in L’Equipe
“I know that a player is not more important than a tournament, but it was worth a try, wasn’t it? The US Open has been fighting for two years to get exemptions. And tennis tournaments in general. To play the French Open, to play the Australian Open… Everywhere, we have fought for exemptions, to put in place measures to allow tournaments to take place. But now, suddenly, we’re not fighting anymore because we don’t care. In my opinion, we should give a damn.”
The relaxation of restrictions against the disease, which came into force in early August, had given Djokovic fans hope he might be allowed to play the event, which would have given him the chance to equal Rafael Nadal with 22 Grand Slam titles.
Sandgren: “Maybe some people are happy Novak’s not in the draw”
Sandgren said he had not been surprised that the relaxation in CDC rules had not changed anything.
“Honestly, I didn’t think it would make a difference to Novak,” he said. “But I thought maybe the US Open and the USTA would use this information to fight or appeal. That the US Open doesn’t have a say or can’t communicate with the health authorities to help make decisions is ridiculous: this is an absolutely huge event for the state and city of New York. They have influence. I don’t know if it would have been enough, we’ll never know: they didn’t even try!”
Sandgren said what happened in Melbourne in January, when Djokovic was eventually sent home, had perhaps spooked the US Open, that they would not have wanted the same kind of negative headlines the Australian Open received for its handling of the affair.
And he even suggested that player apathy may have played a part.
“Maybe some people are happy that Novak is not in the draw,” he said. “Let’s say that those who don’t say anything, we can imagine how they feel about it.
“We all have an opinion, I would like everyone to express it. It doesn’t matter if it’s for or against Novak. A lot of people must think that their word doesn’t matter, but it does. People listen to us. Maybe if a lot of players had spoken out for the US Open to fight for Novak, it would have made a difference. Only by speaking out can things change.”