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Djokovic heading to Australian Open ‘with exemption permission’

World number one Novak Djokovic said Tuesday that he was heading to the Australian Open to defend his title after being granted a medical exemption to play.

All participants at the Australian Open, which starts on January 17, need to be vaccinated against Covid-19 or have a medical exemption, assessed by an independent panel of experts.

The Serb has repeatedly refused to confirm if he has been inoculated, with his participation at the opening Grand Slam of the year at Melbourne Park the subject of intense speculation for months.

“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 nine-time Australian Open winner said on Instagram.

His post was accompanied by a picture of him at an airport, looking relaxed, with his bags.

Djokovic’s confirmation that he is en route sets the scene for a showdown with arch-rival Rafael Nadal, with both gunning for a record 21st Grand Slam title.

The Spanish superstar is already in Melbourne preparing after recovering from the coronavirus.

Djokovic has previously expressed his opposition to the Covid-19 vaccine and his father Srdjan said in late November that his son would probably not play in Melbourne, accusing the organisers of “blackmail”.

Government officials in Victoria state, which hosts the Australian Open, had been adamant for months that only vaccinated players would be able to play the tournament.

“They’re the rules. Medical exemptions are just that—it’s not a loophole for privileged tennis players,” the state’s Deputy Premier James Merlino said last month.

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