Novak Djokovic will defend his Australian Open title after revealing he has secured a medical exemption for the tournament and he is on his way to Melbourne.
The exemption ends weeks of speculation about the possibility of Djokovic being unable to compete in the opening grand slam tournament of 2022 since he had refused to divulge his vaccination status and had previously expressed doubt about taking a Covid vaccine.
All Australian Open participants must either be fully vaccinated or apply for and secure a medical exemption in order to enter Victoria without undertaking the mandatory 14-day quarantine.
“Happy New Year, everybody! Wishing you all health, love, and happiness in every present moment and may you feel love & respect towards all beings on this wonderful planet,” Djokovic wrote on social media.
“I’ve spent fantastic quality time with my loved ones over the break and today I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission. Let’s go 2022 !!”
Djokovic’s announcement has garnered mixed responses from some of his peers. “If it was me that wasn’t vaccinated I wouldn’t be getting an exemption,” said Jamie Murray at the ATP Cup. “But well done to him for getting clear to come to Australia and compete.”
Alex de Minaur, Australia’s No 1 men’s player, said that he hopes that other players who applied for exemptions received the same treatment as Djokovic. “I just think it’s just very interesting, that’s all I’m going to say,” De Minaur responded. “But, hey, it is what it is. I just hope that the other players that I heard were cases as well, [I hope] they got exemptions.”
Liam Broady, who is Great Britain’s ATP Cup captain in Sydney, said: “You have to trust that he does have a valid reason for the medical exemption.”
Shortly after Djokovic’s announcement, the Australian Open confirmed he had received a medical exemption and they released a statement outlining the process. Two panels of experts were charged with reviewing the evidence, with the applications finalised by the Independent Medical Exemption Review Panel, a panel of experts appointed by the government. According to a Victorian state spokesman, the personal information of applicants is redacted in the process.
The Tennis Australia CEO, Craig Tiley, told the Today Show on Wednesday morning that 26 players and staff had applied for a medical exemption but only “a handful” of applications were granted and that participants at the Australian Open had been subject to a more rigorous process than Australian citizens.
“If they didn’t meet the guidelines, and there were many that didn’t, they were rejected,” Tiley said. “If they met the guidelines, for example – which a lot of people forget – one of those conditions is having had Covid in the past six months. So any person who met those conditions has been allowed to come in. There’s been no special favour, there’s been no special opportunity granted to Novak nor there would be to any tennis player.”
Criteria listed by the Australian Technical Advisory Group as permissible reasons for a medical exemption range from those suffering acute major medical conditions to any serious adverse event attributed to a previous dose of Covid-19 vaccine. For those who have recently tested positive for Covid-19, vaccination can also be deferred until six months after infection. The reason for Djokovic’s exemption is unclear.
While most of the top players have arrived in Melbourne in order to compete in the first week of competition, with some even landing before Christmas, Djokovic remained at his training base in Marbella after withdrawing from this week’s ATP Cup. His presence could prove a defining moment as he attempts to win his 21st major title, which would break the record he shares with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
Despite successful medical exemptions for Djokovic and some others, not all players were able to make the trip to Melbourne.
Natalia Vikhlyantseva, a Russian player ranked 195th, announced her withdrawal from the Australian Open last month since she had been vaccinated with Sputnik V, which was developed in her home country but is not recognised by the Australian government.