Defending champion Novak Djokovic has confirmed he will play at the Australian Open
World number one Novak Djokovic has ended speculation about his participation at the Australian Open, stating that he has “exemption permission” and is traveling to the country to compete.
“Happy New Year, everybody! Wishing you all health, love, and happiness in every present moment and may you feel love and respect towards all beings on this wonderful planet,” said the Serbian star in an Instagram message on Tuesday, accompanied by a photo of himself at an airport.
“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!”
Uncertainty had surrounded Djokovic’s participation at the season-opening Grand Slam in Melbourne, which kicks off on January 17.
Only fully vaccinated players are allowed to appear unless granted an exemption by a medical board.
Djokovic, who is a record nine-time champion Down Under, has refused to reveal his vaccine status although the Serb has widely advocated freedom of choice on the issue.
With his reference to an ‘exemption’, many will take that as confirmation that Djokovic has not been vaccinated against Covid.
However, he has still been cleared to play at the tournament, where he will be targeting a outright record of 21 Grand Slam titles.
Djokovic, 34, has missed the ongoing ATP Cup in Sydney, where he was due to play for the Serbian team.
That fueled speculation that he would also miss the Australian Open itself, while Djokovic’s father, Srdjan, said back in November that his son would not give in to ‘blackmail’ over vaccine mandates.
Scrutiny from some quarters will likely now turn to the precise grounds for the exemption granted to Djokovic.
Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley had already revealed at the weekend that some unvaccinated players had been given exemptions, but justified the process as rigorous and fair.
“There are two medical panels that assess any application, and they assess it in a blind way. They don’t know who the applicant is,” Tiley said.
“Against the ATAGI [Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation] guidelines, an exemption gets granted or not. The reason for granting that exemption remains private, between the panel and the applicant.”