Former men’s world number one Novak Djokovic said he will not play in the US Open which begins on Monday as Covid protocols mean he cannot travel to the United States.

The 35-year-old tweeted saying: “Sadly, I will not be able to travel to NY this time for US Open. 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!”

The Serb, who claimed the Wimbledon title in July, was deported from Australia earlier this year and could not compete at the Australian Open because of his unvaccinated status.

The United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention maintained in their updated mandate on vaccination that it was compulsory for non-US citizens to take the Covid-19 vaccination to enter the country. Thus, Djokovic’s participation in the Major was in doubt even before he officially confirmed it on Twitter.

Djokovic’s 2022 season has hence seen him compete only two Majors, winning his 21st title in London. Doubts remain over his return to Australia in 2023 and beyond.

Djokovic’s announcement, which was widely anticipated, came hours before the draw for the final slam of the season – organisers announced he would be replaced by a lucky loser from qualifying.

Stacey Allaster, US Open Tournament Director, regretted his absence.

“Novak is a great champion and it is very unfortunate that he will be unable to compete at the 2022 US Open, as he is unable to enter the country due to the federal government’s vaccination policy for non-U.S.citizens,” she said in a statement.

“We look forward to welcoming Novak back at the 2023 US Open.”

Tennis legend John McEnroe has blasted the Djokovic ban as a “joke”

“At this point, in the pandemic, we’re two and a half years in, I think people in all parts of the world know more about it, and the idea that he can’t travel here to play, to me is a joke,” said McEnroe.

Ironically, during the height of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, Djokovic was allowed to compete at New York where he was champion in 2011, 2015 and 2018.

He has not played since securing a seventh Wimbledon title last month which took him to 21 Grand Slam victories, one short of Rafael Nadal’s record of 22.

Only last month, Djokovic said he was “preparing to play” in the US Open where a traumatic defeat in last year’s final at the hands of Daniil Medvedev dashed his hopes of a Grand Slam sweep of the four majors.

(With inputs from AFP)