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By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday, March 8, 2023


Florida Governor Ron DeSantis calls out President Biden to lift restrictions to allow Novak Djokovic to enter the U.S. and floats possible backdoor for world No. 1 to play Miami.

Photo credit: Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic has a powerful American ally supporting his bid to enter the United States.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis posted a letter he's sent to President Biden on social media requesting restrictions preventing the unvaccinated Djokovic from entering the U.S. are lifted so that he can play this month's Miami Open.

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Governor DeSantis, who has attended the Miami Open as a fan, takes his request a step further offering the 22-time Grand Slam champion potential floating back-door entry to Florida.

Will Djokovic ride a liquid loophole into the United States?

In his letter, the Florida Governor suggests Djokovic could enter Florida by boat without violating current COVID-19 policy and seeks clarification on the President's proclamation.

"It is also not clear to me why, even by the terms of your own proclamation, Mr. Djokovic could not legally enter this country by boat," Governor DeSantis writes to President Biden. "Your administration does not appear to have issued analogous restrictions for non-U.S. individuals to enter our country by boat."

Superstars routinely took the boat ride on the River Thames to travel to the O2 Arena when the ATP Finals were staged in London.

Will we see Djokovic, who withdrew from Indian Wells on Monday after his request for an exemption to enter the U.S. wasn't approved, cruise across the Keys into Miami?

Governor DeSantis has asked President Biden to "please confirm no later than Friday, March 10, 2023, that this method of travel [boat] would be permissible."

The Florida Governor also praised Djokovic as a global sportsman and philanthropic force.

"Novak Djokovic, as you surely know, is the most accomplished tennis player in history, and the reigning top-ranked player in his sport," Governor DeSantis writes. "As a result of his illustrious career and philanthropic efforts, he has a strong following of loyal fans in the United States. There can be no question that his inclusion in the Miami Open would be a tremendous boon both for this treasured tournament and the tennis community at large."

Though Djokovic filed for a special exemption to enter the United States in a bid to play the Sunshine Double at Indian Wells and Miami and received public support from Florida Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio his appeal hasn't been approved.

The Djokovic case has created sharp division in the tennis world.

Supporters of Djokovic say it's absurd unvaccinated players in other sports are able to travel and compete and point out the hypocrisy of government policy that has made the U.S. southern border accessible to illegal immigrants, while Djokovic is merely requesting legal entry to do his job.

Avid Djokovic fans also point out his presence can help boost both the bottom line of the Miami Open and the south Florida economy invoking instant star power to a tournament that will be without the retired Roger Federer and Serena Williams as well as the injured Rafa Nadal and Nick Kyrgios and the pregnant Naomi Osaka. They say Djokovic, beyond his status as one of the world's premier athletes, continues to give back to charitable and children's educational causes through his foundation and has repeatedly stood up for players' rights.

Some former champions, including Hall of Famer John McEnroe, have lobbied on Djokovic's behalf pointing out we are at a flash point in tennis history, which makes the 10-time Australian Open champion's presence even more pivotal.

Former No. 1 McEnroe, says "it's a complete joke" Djokovic can't enter the United States now but will be permitted in two months time when current COVID-19 restrictions ease up.

That means Djokovic would be able to play the US Open in August, but not the Miami Open this month, unless he receives a late exemption or rides a cruise ship into town.

The U.S. Travel Association blasted banning Djokovic, branding it an outdated, "unforced error" that hurts the American economy.

Opponents say we're seeing the same story play out over and over and it's getting really old really fast.

Critics say the 35-year-old Serbian continuously plays the primma donna and victim cards without acknowledging the reason he's in limbo in the first place is because he refused to do what 99 of the Top 100 ranked men did: take the jab.

Why should the U.S. government reward Djokovic for putting himself above the rules, opponents argue? Furthermore, they point out Djokovic has long said sports and politics should not mix. Then if that's the case, why is he engaging powerful American politicians to support his cause?

Critics also claim Governor DeSantis, who is reportedly planning to run for the Republican nomination for President of the United States, is simply using Djokovic's case as a political prop. He's merely rocking the boat to try to pump up his base and promote himself as tough-talking potential challenger to the Democratic leader Biden.

Opponents say this is little more than another volley in culture wars designed to divide an already fractured nation and distract Americans from real issues. Critics say it's absurd public servants like Senators Scott and Rubio are investing so much time and energy serving a single superstar tennis player instead of trying to solve real problems for real citizens like ensuring social security remains in a state which is home to the highest percentage of senior citizens of any state in the union.

For now, Djokovic, the Miami Open and Governor DeSantis await clarification on boat entry with hope on the horizon and the Sunshine Double already underway in Indian Wells. 


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