Novak Djokovic announced Tuesday that he will defend his Australian Open title later this month after receiving a medical exemption from getting a COVID-19 vaccine. But, one day later, his participation remains in doubt as Australian officials vow to examine Djokovic’s request more closely.

Novak Djokovic Australian Open odds
Novak Djokovic successfully applied for a medical exemption that allows him to play in the Australian Open without receiving a COVID-19 vaccination, but Australian officials say they will confirm his reasoning before he can stay in the country. (Image: Andy Brownbill/AP)

Djokovic has repeatedly declined to reveal his vaccination status since vaccines became available.

Officials say Djokovic earned exemption fairly

The fact that the 20-time Grand Slam champion applied for an exemption from the Australian Open COVID vaccination policy implies that he never received a vaccine.

“I’ve spent fantastic quality time with my loved ones over the break and today I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission,” Djokovic wrote on Instagram. “Let’s go 2022!”

Australian Open officials confirmed that they approved an exemption for Djokovic.

“Djokovic applied for a medical exemption which was granted following a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts,” organizers said in a statement. “One of those was the Independent Medical Exemption Review Panel appointed by the Victorian Department of Health. They assessed all applications to see if they met the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization guidelines.”

Tournament director Craig Tiley said that 26 individuals, including both players and staff, applied for medical exemptions from the vaccine policy. He added that the tournament granted only about 20% to 25% of those requests.

Australian Open officials say they gave no special treatment to Djokovic. Some players expressed skepticism of that claim.

“I don’t know what to say about that really,” Jamie Murray said after the ATP Cup. “I think if it was me that wasn’t vaccinated, I wouldn’t be getting an exemption. But well done to him for getting clear to come to Australia and compete.”

Morrison: No special treatment for anyone

Even with that exemption, Djokovic must still meet strict regulations just to enter Australia. The Age reported that Djokovic landed in Melbourne just before midnight local time on Wednesday at Tullamarine Airport, but that he could not enter the country immediately due to an error with his visa application. Djokovic’s father confirmed those reports, saying that “Novak is currently in a room which no one can enter.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison weighed in on the issue, saying Djokovic must provide evidence of a genuine medical reason for an exemption or leave the country.

“We await his presentation and what evidence he provides us to support that,” Morrison told reporters. “If that evidence is insufficient, then he won’t be treated any different to anyone else and he’ll be on the next plane home. There should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic at all.”

Djokovic has won the Australian Open nine times. He would take the all-time lead in total Grand Slam victories – a title he currently shares jointly with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal – if he wins the tournament this year. FanDuel Sportsbook lists Djokovic as the +130 favorite to win the 2022 Australian Open, ahead of Daniil Medvedev (+170) and Alexander Zverev (+350).