Novak Djokovic has confirmed he will contest this month's Australian Open, revealing he has been granted "an exemption permission" to play.
There had been serious doubts the world No. 1 would travel to Australia to play the year's first grand slam as he had refused to reveal his Covid-19 vaccination status.
But the Serbian took to social media to announce he is coming to Australia to defend his title.
"Happy New Year, everybody!" Djokovic wrote on Instagram.
"Wishing you all health, love, and happiness in every present moment and may you feel love & respect towards all beings on this wonderful planet️.
"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 !!".
Tennis Australia and Australian Open organisers had made it clear all players must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 or have a medical exemption to participate in the tournament.
Djokovic has long been reluctant to say whether he is vaccinated, prompting speculation he would have to obtain an exemption to play in the Australian Open.
He had entered the ATP Cup but then withdrew from the Sydney tournament at the last minute, and even his would-be Serbian teammates were unsure if Djokovic would be able to play the Australian Open.
Up until recent days there had been fears the 34-year-old would miss the first grand slam of the year, with tournament director Craig Tiley saying on Sunday Djokovic was leaving it "pretty late" to come to Australia.
"As far as the status relates to Novak, I think we'll have a much clearer picture in the coming days otherwise it's getting pretty late to show up and play the Australian Open," Tiley told Channel 9.
"There's quite a bit to play out and I think it will play out in the coming days."
It's unclear on what grounds Djokovic has obtained an exemption.
In a statement released on Monday night, the Australian Open confirmed Djokovic had been granted an exemption following a thorough review by two independent panels.
"Novak Djokovic will compete at the Australian Open and is on his way to Australia," the statement read.
"Djokovic applied for a medical exemption which was granted following a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts.
"One of those was the Independent Medical Exemtpion Review Panel appointed by the Victorian Department of Health. They assessed all applications to see if they met the Australian Technical Advisory Group of Immunisation (ATAGI) guidelines."
Tournament director Craig Tiley said: "Fair and independent protocols were established for assessing medical exemption applications at will enable us to ensure Australian Open 2022 is safe and enjoyable for everyone.
"Central to this process was that the decisions were made by independent medical experts and that every applicant was given due consideration."
According to the ATAGI's guidelines on medical exemptions for Covid-19 vaccines, only those with an "acute major medical condition" would be allowed to enter Australia.
There are also non-medical exemptions which can be applied for to enter Australia, which Djokovic may have done, since he did not specify his exemption was medical.
Criteria for non-medical exemptions include a foreign national being deemed "in the national interest" or having "critical skills".
A further explanation may be that he has contracted Covid for a second time at some point in the last six months, having previously caught it during his ill-fated Adria Tour event in the summer of 2020.
This would negate the need for vaccination, according to rules published in November by one of two independent medical panels involved in the decision. Perhaps Djokovic simply didn't tell anyone that he was suffering a second bout?
His inclusion is a major boost for the Australian Open. Djokovic is a nine-time champion at Melbourne Park and will be chasing a record 21st grand slam title later this month, which would see him pass Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal with the most major titles by a men's singles player.
However, he can expect to receive a frosty reception from crowds when he takes to the court Down Under.
Novak Djokovic has finally confirmed he will travel to Melbourne to play the Australian Open. Photo / Photosport
Pundits and players have been quick to criticise the fact Djokovic has been given an exemption to enter the country, arguing it completely goes against the restrictions Australians have faced during the pandemic and flies in the face of soaring cases numbers.
"Reckon they've misread the room on the Novak decision," Channel 7 sports reporter Ryan Daniels tweeted.
TV and radio host Andy Maher said: "Australians have been denied for two years, but this bloke – who's taken extraordinary liberties in the face of the coronavirus – gets his exemption. Novak Djokovic is an all-time great, but he ain't essential."
Sports journalist Jon Ralph labelled the decision "farcical".
"People will be going to bed right now to get up at 5am to do the right thing to get into testing queues for PCR results they won't get for six days and will quarantine anyway," he said.
"How bloody galling to see Novak get an exemption."
Football writer Samantha Lewis added: "Everybody attending the Australian Open has a patriotic duty to boo Djokovic for the entirety of his stay.
"This is an obscene decision and organisers should be ashamed of themselves."
AAP reporter Karen Sweeney tweeted: "Novak Djokovic is about to find out what it's like to be despised by all of Australia. We're all nice and laid back until we're not."
British doubles specialist told the Daily Telegraph: "I think if it was me that wasn't vaccinated, I wouldn't be getting an exemption."
Murray wasn't the only player to sound sceptical. When the subject came up in a press conference involving Australia's Alex de Minaur, he replied "I just think it's just very interesting, that's all I'm going to say. But, hey, it is what it is."
Also on Wednesday, it emerged that two-time Australian Open quarter-finalist Tennys Sandgren is not travelling to Melbourne because of the tournament's vaccination policy.
Sandgren then received a message on social media from fellow American player Tommy Paul, asking whether he would be seeking an exemption. "Not quite the same pull [as Djokovic]," he replied.
The Australian Open starts in Melbourne on Monday, January 17.
- by news.com.au with The Daily Telegraph UK