The Serb, whose participation was compromised because of the vagueness maintained on his vaccination status, obtained a dispensation to participate in his fetish tournament. It was at the Australian Open that he won his first Grand Slam tournament in 2008. He also holds the record for titles there: nine in total.
For months, the world number one left the doubt on his presence or not in Melbourne because of the obligation made to the players to be vaccinated to enter Australia. In the spring of 2020, Djokovic declared himself openly hostile to compulsory vaccination before organizing a tournament in the Balkans a few weeks later in defiance of any health precaution and after which several positive cases had been identified. He had ended up expressing regret. After months of frenzied speculation, defending champion Novak Djokovic will play in the Australian Open, a tournament where being double-vaccinated against Covid-19 is mandatory to compete, despite declining to receive his jabs.
To those who've spent the past 24 hours on a separate planet, the above notion may seem a little contradictory. Those with even the remotest interest in tennis, however, will know the Serbian has dubiously been granted a medical exemption to fly out and compete in Melbourne.
In a parallel universe, the participation of Djokovic is a positive development. An all-time great, a nine-time champion at the event, and for organizers, the narrative surrounding his bid for a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title won't fail to elevate publicity levels.
Circumstances, however, mean his inclusion is now clouded by controversy and confusion – supplemented by the inkling he has essentially been given special treatment. But whilst ambiguity reigns, here's the lowdown on what we do know so far:
Vaccinations Were Made Mandatory For Melbourne
So on November 20, Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley confirmed the inevitable by announcing all players must be vaccinated to play in the tournament at Melbourne Park. By that point, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews had already outlined the state's position on the matter and critically, Tiley told Channel Nine that players had already been informed.
“Immediately we communicated that to the playing group, it is the one direction that you take that is going to ensure everyone’s safety,” he said. “All the playing group understands it, our patrons will need to be vaccinated, all the staff working at the Australian Open will need to be vaccinated.”
Immediately, attention turned to world no 1 Djokovic, who by that point had long publicly opposed the notion of the vaccine becoming a mandate for tour events.
Clarity wasn't forthcoming though, with the Serbian maintaining his vow to keep his vaccination status private – leading to the widespread assumption he hadn't complied with requests.
Medical Exemptions Alter The Outlook
Fast forward six weeks and Djokovic's participation remained up in the air, but his withdrawal from the ATP Cup event in Sydney exacerbated beliefs he would be spending January at home. A possible loophole emerged in the form of Tiley confirming unvaccinated players could gain entry – providing they could submit evidence of medical exemption. Given the correlation between exemptions and people battling serious health conditions, however, the prospect of elite athletes being in the latter group was deemed a little remote.
So when on Tuesday Djokovic jovially announced on Instagram he'd been granted one, it triggered a worldwide inquest with no shortage of applications to play jury. Another unvaccinated player, American Tennys Sandgren, duly confirmed he'd been told he wasn't eligible for an exemption and shared the already popular view that the Serbian's superior tennis status brought him favorable treatment. One possible explanation is that if Djokovic has recently contracted Covid-19, then it would have been compulsory for him to delay any subsequent vaccination appointment. Possible and plausible, however, are two very different words.
And Adria Tour That Caused Covid Chaos
The lack of sympathy surrounding Djokovic's perceived ignorance towards Covid-19 doesn't stem from the Australian Open saga alone. In fact, it dates back to the summer of 2020, when in a brazen show of defiance, he organized the ill-fated Adria Tour to counter ATP Tour events being suspended.