Novak Djokovic ended speculation over his Australian Open title defence by announcing on Tuesday that he would compete at the tennis season’s opening Grand Slam event after receiving a medical exemption from getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
The world No. 1, who had declined to reveal his vaccination status, said previously that he was unsure whether he would compete at the Jan. 17-30 tournament in Melbourne due to concerns over Australia’s quarantine rules.
“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,” the Serbian said on Instagram.
Organisers of the Australian Open had stipulated that all participants must be vaccinated against the coronavirus or have a medical exemption granted by an independent panel of experts.
The organisers issued a statement later on Tuesday to confirm Djokovic will be allowed to compete at the Australian Open and is on his way to Australia.
“Djokovic applied for a medical exemption which was granted following a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts,” the statement said.
“One of those was the Independent Medical Exemption Review Panel appointed by the Victorian Department of Health. They assessed all applications to see if they met the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation guidelines.”
Tennis Australia said last month the panel would consist of doctors from the fields of immunology, infectious disease and general practice and that the move was agreed in conjunction with the Victoria Department of Health.
Applicants who pass an initial stage are subject to a second review conducted by a government-appointed panel before the application is submitted to the Australian Immunisation Register.
Djokovic’s father, Srdjan, had told a Serbian television channel that his son would probably pull out of the major, saying Tennis Australia’s stance on mandatory jabs was tantamount to “blackmail.”
Djokovic pulled out of the Serbia team for the ATP Cup in Sydney to raise further doubts over his participation in the year’s first Grand Slam.
“I’m ready to live and breathe tennis in the next few weeks of competition. Thanks everyone for the support,” Djokovic added in his post, which was accompanied by a picture of him in an airport.
He heads to Australia having trained in Marbella, Spain, over the past few days.
Tennis Australia did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Djokovic has won a record nine Australian Open titles, including the past three, and is in a three-way tie on 20 majors with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on the all-time list.