World number one and defending Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic said Tuesday that he was heading to Australia after being granted a medical exemption to play and the tournament confirmed his participation in the Major.

“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!” he said on Instagram.

Australian Open also confirmed the decision to provide him a medical exemption after a rigorous review process.

“Djokovic applied for a medical exemption which was granted following a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts. 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 Immunisation (ATAGI) guidelines,” a statement from the organisers said.

The tournament is scheduled to take place from January 17 to 30.

There had been uncertainty over the 20-time Major winner’s participation at his favourite Slam. He has refused to confirm if he has been vaccinated against Covid-19 and withdrew from the ATP Cup in Sydney this week without giving a reason.

All participants at the opening Grand Slam of the year, which starts January 17, need to be vaccinated or have a medical exemption. There already was speculation that Djokovic has applied for one, which would be assessed by an independent panel of experts and remain confidential.

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

Djokovic’s confirmation that he is en route could set the scene for a showdown with 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.

In the statement released by Australian Open, chief Craig Tiley said, “fair and independent protocols were established for assessing medical exemption applications that will enable us to ensure Australian Open 2022 is safe and enjoyable for everyone.”

“Central to this process was that the decisions were made by independent medical experts and that every applicant was given due consideration,” Tiley said.

Djokovic has won nine of his 20 major titles at the Australian Open.

According to Associated Press, Tennis Australia said the process included the redaction of personal information to ensure privacy for all applicants.

‘Genuine reasons’

Tournament director Tiley last week confirmed a number of players had been granted exemptions, without naming Djokovic, while explaining the process involved.

“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,” he told reporters.

“Against the ATAGI [Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation] guidelines, an exemption gets granted or not. The reason for granting that exemption remains private, between the panel and the applicant.”

He said on Tuesday there had to have been a “genuine reason” to grant an exemption.

“Central to this process was that the decisions were made by independent medical experts and that every applicant was given due consideration,” he said.

With AFP inputs