World number one Novak Djokovic will defend his Australian Open title later this month after receiving a medical exemption to have a Covid-19 vaccination.
All players and tournament staff must be vaccinated or benefit from an exemption granted by a panel of independent experts.
Serbian Djokovic, 34, has not spoken publicly about his vaccination status.
But Australian Open chief Craig Tiley said “no special favors” had been given to the nine-time champion.
Speaking to Channel Nine’s The Today Show, Tiley added, “We’ve made it even more difficult for anyone applying for an application to make sure it was the right process and to ensure that the medical experts treat it independently.There were 26 athletes who applied and a handful was granted.
“There hasn’t been any special favor or opportunity given to Novak Djokovic or any tennis player. There has been a process that goes beyond the normal process for everyone.”
The tournament kicks off in Melbourne on January 17th and Djokovic said on Instagram on Tuesday: “I had some fantastic quality time with my loved ones during the break and today I’m heading down on a waiver.
“Let’s go in 2022. I’m ready to live and breathe tennis in the coming weeks of competition.”
The news was confirmed by the organizers of the Tennis Australia tournament, who said: “Novak Djokovic will compete in the Australian Open and is on his way to Australia.”
Earlier this week, Tiley said some unvaccinated players had been granted exemptions to compete in the first Grand Slam of the year.
On Wednesday he added: “For the tennis players, it was a process that went beyond what anyone coming to Australia would go through just because we had an additional panel of experts who through a review at blind, granted exemptions where appropriate. “
Requests for medical exemptions were assessed anonymously by two separate panels, with inflammatory heart disease or another acute condition listed as valid reasons.
It is also possible that Djokovic recently tested positive for the virus, which would allow him to postpone taking the vaccine.
Tennis Australia said Djokovic obtained an exemption after a “rigorous review process involving two independent panels of medical experts”.
“Fair and independent protocols have been established to assess medical exemption requests that will allow us to ensure that the 2022 Australian Open is safe and enjoyable for everyone,” Tiley said in a statement Tuesday.
“The central point of this process was that decisions were made by independent medical experts and that each candidate was given due consideration.”
Djokovic had withdrawn from Serbia for the ATP Cup in Sydney, which raised doubts about his participation in Melbourne Park.
BBC tennis commentator Andrew Castle said while he was “not surprised” by the reaction to the exemption, the decision was “not unfair”.
“We don’t know what Djokovic’s medical exemption is and we’ll never know because it’s private,” Castle told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“But he has to have one. We knew that would happen when the exemptions were announced. I’m not surprised [by the reaction] but what I will say is that it is not unfair because it satisfied two independent panels.
“Is he giving the tennis world the right lead? It’s debatable. It doesn’t look like he broke the rules, he has satisfied the independent panels, so we find ourselves arguing again over another Covid-related case.
“I can understand the Australian public being furious. They’ve been to hell and back and if the crowd boos him – which I think they will – he’ll put it aside and become the favorite to win. not discussing his tennis, the concern here is leadership and the example he sets, but getting the shot is not mandatory. “
Djokovic has won the last three Australian Open and is tied at three in 20 majors with Roger Federer, who is missing the tournament with injury, and Rafael Nadal in the all-time roster.
“He has a chance to break that record,” added Castle. “The tournament would be worse without him from a tennis point of view, of course. But he has never been as loved as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and that will do nothing to make him love this part of the world.
“This is another big argument from Covid and I want this to go away.”