Novak Djokovic receives 'exemption permission' to defend Australian Open crown

World number one to play first Grand Slam of the year despite not being vaccinated against COVID.

Novak Djokovic will defend his Australian Open title after confirming he has received a medical exemption to travel to Australia.

The government in Victoria decided last year that all players would need to be fully vaccinated against COVID to be able to play the event, although they did make provisions for medical exemptions.

Djokovic has been staunchly reluctant to reveal his vaccination status, insisting that he is pro-choice rather than anti-vax.

He, though, is now free to attempt to win what would be a record 21st major title after revealing on Instagram that he has received special permission to play without vaccination.

"Happy New Year, everybody," Djokovic wrote on his official Instagram account.

"Wishing you all health, love, and happiness in every present moment and may you feel love & respect towards all beings on this wonderful planet.

"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!"

Earlier this week Tournament director Craig Tiley explained the policy that has apparently seen Djokovic able to play the Australian Open.

"Every athlete coming into Australia has to be vaccinated and show proof of that, or has to have made application from a medical exemption," Tiley explained.

"In the case of tennis players, that's far more rigorous than anyone coming into Australia applying for a medical exemption.

"There are two medical panels that assess any application, and they assess it in a blind way. They don't know who the applicant is.

"Against the guidelines, an exemption gets granted or not. The reason for granting the exemption remains private, between the panel and the applicant

"We know of athletes that have applied for an exemption and in cases, it's been granted.

"Some of those (players) have indicated that they're here, but that's up to the athlete, to disclose and [decide] whether they want to share that information."

Tennis Australia also released a statement today, saying: "Novak Djokovic will compete at the Australian Open and is on his way to Australia.

"Djokovic applied for a medical exemption which was granted following a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts."

Djokovic is currently tied with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer on 20 major titles, with nearly half of the Serbian's coming in Melbourne.

Last year he overcame a torn abdominal muscle he sustained during the tournament to beat Daniil Medvedev in straight sets in the final, with the Russian expected to be his main competition again this time around.