Djokovic Indian Wells ban ‘doesn’t matter’ as Serb branded ‘anti-hero’

Novak Djokovic has been branded an “anti-hero” as Chris Evert told the world No 1 he would still be the best player despite being banned from competing in Indian Wells when his vaccine waiver request to enter the US was reportedly denied by Homeland Security. Evert believes his absence from the tournament could even work in his favour and leave him extra motivated as the American claimed he would still be seen as the top player.

Djokovic was forced to pull out of Indian Wells on Monday after Florida Senator Rick Scott said the Serb’s request to enter the country unvaccinated was not approved. It has left his No 1 ranking in jeopardy as Carlos Alcaraz could overtake the 35-year-old by winning the title, but Evert has reassured Djokovic that it won’t “matter” as she weighed in on the GOAT debate.

“He is probably the greatest of all time. I mean, when his career is over, he probably will be,” the 18-time Grand Slam champion told Eurosport, going on to admit that she wanted to see him in the Californian desert. “And it’s a shame. I wish they had started letting people return to the United States sooner. I’m sure everyone feels that way.”

While the retired former No 1 was disappointed that Djokovic couldn’t play the first Masters of the year, she admitted that it likely wouldn’t make a difference to his reputation and could instead be a blessing in disguise, giving him a better chance of winning future events. “Now, the ATP is, ‘Is Novak playing in the tournament? Or is Novak not playing in the tournament?’” she said of the current state of the men’s tour, with events having two possibilities depending on Djokovic’s participation.

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“It is an open field if Novak is not playing in the tournament. If he’s playing in the tournament, he’s always going to be the favourite. So even though he’s not playing a full schedule because he can’t due to vaccination, I think in everyone’s mind it doesn’t really matter. He’s still No 1 in the world. Whether he plays a full schedule or a three-quarter schedule, he’s still No 1 in everyone’s mind.”

Evert also looked back on Djokovic’s Australian Open ordeal last year, which saw the world No 1 deported on the eve of the tournament after having his visa cancelled twice for reasons involving his unvaccinated status before he returned in 2023 and won the title. “I think that the more someone tells Novak that he can’t do something, the more he is determined,” she explained.

And she thought history could repeat itself with Indian Wells, as Djokovic’s ban could only give him motivation to lift more titles. The 68-year-old continued: “When he is in control of the situation, it gives him more motivation and makes him more determined to succeed, and show it to everyone’s face at the same time. He is sometimes like the anti-hero, he seems to really measure up to the challenge, the circumstances when they defy him and when they tell him no.”

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Touching on this year’s Australian Open, she added: “I was amazed that he could play in those circumstances. He can overcome almost anything. He is so mentally strong and he is so focused on his goal. It just reconfirmed how strong he is mentally by winning that title. He’s amazing. He’s amazing. And that’s why he’s No 1, because he’s got the mentality, the emotional and the ability. He’s got all three at such a high level, higher than anyone, that combination.”

Djokovic is next expected to play the Monte Carlo Masters in April, though there is still a sliver of hope that he could play this month’s Miami Open as American politicians attempt to intervene. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has written an open letter to Biden urging him to allow the Serbian to play the second Masters 1000 of the season and it remains to be seen whether the request will end up becoming another in the rejection pile.

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