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A group of protesters gathered outside the U.S. Open entry gates at Flushing Meadows in Queens, New York, on Monday to call for an end to vaccine mandates for travelers after 21-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic, who is unvaccinated against COVID-19, announced last week that he would not be able to participate in the tournament.
Demonstrators greeted U.S. Open goers with signs that read “End the travel mandate now!” and “Novak’s body, Novak’s Choice!”
Members of Families are Essential and Children’s Health Defense and Teachers for Choice were among the demonstrators.
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Djokovic announced on social media that he would not be traveling to New York as a result of travel restrictions that prevent any non-U.S. citizens from entering the country without having received the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Sadly, I will not be able to travel to NY this time for US Open,” the Serbian tennis pro wrote on Twitter. “Thank you #NoleFam for your messages of love and support.”
“Good luck to my fellow players! I’ll keep in good shape and positive spirit and wait for an opportunity to compete again. See you soon tennis world!”
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The United States Tennis Association (USTA) provided a statement last month announcing that while the tournament does not have a vaccine mandate, it will adhere to federal policy.
Rafael Nadal addressed Djokovic’s absence from the U.S. Open at a press conference on Friday, calling it “very sad.”
“From my personal perspective, it’s very sad news. It’s always a shame when the best players of the world are not able to play a tournament because of injuries or because of different reasons,” he said.
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“In this case, not having one of the best players of the history in the draw of a Grand Slam is always an important miss. As I said, it’s tough for the fans, tough for the tournament.”
He continued. “In my opinion, tough for the players, too, because we want to have the best field possible. But, on the other hand, I repeat what I’ve said plenty of times — the sport in some ways is bigger than any player.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.