Seven-times Grand Slam doubles champion Jamie Murray was among those to question the decision to grant world number one Novak Djokovic a medical exemption from getting vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to compete at the Australian Open.
Djokovic, gunning for a 10th title at Melbourne Park later this month, was cleared to play in the year’s first major on Tuesday by Tennis Australia.
The governing body had stipulated that all participants must be vaccinated against the coronavirus or have a medical exemption granted by an independent panel of experts.
Murray said it would have been difficult for him to get a similar exemption if he were in the Serbian’s place.
“I mean, I don’t know what to say about that really… I think if it was me that wasn’t vaccinated I wouldn’t be getting an exemption,” the Briton said during the ATP Cup in Sydney.
“But well done to him for getting clear to come to Australia and compete.”
Paul Annacone, a former coach to Roger Federer and Pete Sampras, said it was his understanding that applications for medical exemptions were done anonymously.
“The two panels it goes through do not know who the person is, they just look at the symptoms,” Annacone said on the Tennis Channel.
“If that integrity is upheld, then what’s done is done. But there’s going to be a lot of questions asked.”
Annacone said Djokovic should still expect some tension from tennis fans in Australia, who have had to endure multiple lockdowns due to COVID-19 over the past two years.
“But Novak Djokovic is pretty good when there’s a little bit of antagonism going on,” he said.
American player Taylor Townsend said the crowds would come around once they saw Djokovic in action.
“When he steps out on the court and he starts to display what he does well, which is play amazing tennis and entertain, I think that they are going to be very happy,” she said.
Britain’s captain at the ATP Cup Liam Broady said that there was no option but to trust that Djokovic had a valid reason to seek an exemption.
The decision, however, was condemned by journalists and former athletes in Australia.
Melbourne-based broadcaster Andy Maher said: “Djokovic is an all-time great, but not essential.”
Former Australian Rules player Corey McKernan tweeted: “People with loved ones who are dying/some needing urgent treatment cannot get into their own states. You tell people they can’t go to Coles or a cafe without being vaxxed but if you’re world number one you get a pass?”
Victory at the Australian Open, which gets underway on Jan. 17, will give Djokovic his 21st major title, one more than the joint-record he shares with Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal.