MELBOURNE (AFP) – Novak Djokovic received “no special” favors to be granted a Covid vaccine exemption to play at the Australian Open, said tournament chief Craig Tiley on Wednesday, as the move sparked a furious backlash.
The nine-time Australian Open champion Djokovic announced late Tuesday he was en route to Melbourne with “an exemption permission”, ending the drawn-out saga over whether the world number one would defend his title.
All participants at the tournament, which starts on January 17, must be vaccinated against Covid-19 or have a medical exemption, which is granted only after assessment by two panels of independent experts.
The Serb has repeatedly refused to confirm if he has been inoculated and previously expressed opposition to the coronavirus vaccine.
Tiley defended the integrity of the process that reviewed Djokovic’s exemption application, which is overseen by national and Victorian state governments.
He revealed that 26 players or their support staff from the 3,000 or so travelling to Australia had asked for an exemption, and only a few of those had been successful.
Some players expressed surprise with the ruling, including British doubles player
Confirmation that the Serb was en route sets the scene for a showdown with Rafael Nadal with both tennis greats seeking a record 21st Grand Slam title at Melbourne Park.
The Spanish great is already in Melbourne after recovering from the coronavirus he contracted at an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi last month.
Fellow 20-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer is injured and not travelling to Australia.