Novak Djokovic To Play Australian Open With Medical Exemption

Novak Djokovic in action at the 2021 Australian Open.
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The long-running drama over whether or not nine-time champion Novak Djokovic would be in Melbourne for the Australian Open was brought to an end today by the Serbian’s announcement that he would be travelling to Melbourne to play at the first Major of the year with a medical exemption from the vaccine requirements. It will doubtless be a controversial decision, both on the part of the tournament organisers for allowing him to play and the world #1 for electing not to get vaccinated – as appears to be the case.

It is not entirely clear on what basis Djokovic has been granted a medical exemption from the requirements for all players to be vaccinated and it seems unlikely that this will be clarified. Being granted such an exemption requires a review from a panel of three independent doctors who specialise in the fields of immunology and infectious disease as well as general practitioners, but tournament officials have made it clear that the findings of these panels will not be made public.

Djokovic is no stranger to controversy on this score. The 20-time Major champion drew criticism for expressing his distrust in vaccines and reluctance to accede to vaccine mandates in an interview given to the Serbian press in 2021, and he also expressed support for what could, generously, be described as pseudo-scientific beliefs held by Chervin Jafarieh in the healing power of pure water and positive thinking. But with Australia in the midst of a serious wave of covid-19 infections caused by the omicron variant, it seems likely that Djokovic risks particularly harsh criticism from the Melbourne crowds.

In tennis terms, however, the Serbian’s presence is unquestionably a positive for the tournament that he has dominated since winning his second title ‘Down Under’ in 2011. He will be aiming for his fourth title in a row in Melbourne, having last year thrashed Daniil Medvedev in straight-sets to start what proved to be banner year for the world #1. And there will be added interest to his efforts to claim the title this year as it would take him past his great rivals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in the Grand Slam stakes. The Spaniard, however, will also be hunting a 21st Major at Melbourne Park.

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