Everything we know so far as Djokovic given exemption to play Australian Open

So, that went down well.

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 organisers, 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 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 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 favourable 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 organised the ill-fated Adria Tour to counter ATP Tour events being suspended.

The 34-year-old arranged an exhibition tournament in his home region of the Balkans, consisting of five different events, which permitted spectators, encouraged players to socialise between matches, and made social distance rules advisory as opposed to compulsory.

The outcome? The tournament ended prematurely after a host of players and associates, including Djokovic, his wife Jelena, and coach Goran Ivanisevic, tested positive for the virus.

The Serbian did publicly apologise for the mess, but it didn't seemingly alter his stance on Covid.

Serbian star supported after speaking out

For all the derision that Djokovic has provoked, not to mention the opposing views from the likes of Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal, there has been high-profile support.

Daniil Medvedev, who in September beat his rival in the final of the US Open, said he had every right to keep his vaccination status private.

“I liked what Novak said about this. He said the vaccination was a personal matter and he would not be making it public,” argued the Russian.

Ashleigh Barty also spoke out against pressure for players to make medical matters public knowledge, and even old foe Nick Kyrgios, never shy to slam the Serbian star, backed his view that individuals shouldn't be forced to take the vaccine in order to compete.

So amongst the waves of controversy, Djokovic can at least take comfort in some ripples of support.

Outrage in Australia

After the US Open final, where Djokovic could take solace in his defeat after a previously hostile crowd appeared to take him to their hearts, he said "The crowd was something I will remember forever. That’s the reason I just teared up,” he said.

“The emotional energy was so strong."

You suspect that this month, he might miss Flushing Meadows.

The apparent u-turn from Australian Open organisers has prompted fury among the residents of Victoria, who have been forced to adhere to some of the tightest Covid restrictions in the world since early 2020.

Monday's decision prompted angry phone-ins and social media posts, while Melbourne-based radio host and sports broadcaster Andy Maher was one high-profile figure to be scathing about the call.

Tennis fan @David_Nathan perhaps summed up the mood on Twitter when he posted "He who knocks out Novak Djokovic gets free beer for life! PS – Doesn't necessarily have to be on court and in competition."

You don't become a 20-time Grand Slam champion, and all-time great of the game, without being able to handle a bit of hostility.

Just as well, became come January 17 in Melbourne, love and sympathy for Djokovic may just be in short supply.

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