Rafael Nadal’s uncle piles pressure on Novak Djokovic after Australian Open exemption

'No special rules for Novak Djokovic', says Australian Prime Minister

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Rafael Nadal’s uncle and former coach Toni Nadal has given his verdict on Novak Djokovic’s medical exemption into the Australian Open. The world No 1 had been in doubt for the season-opening Grand Slam after it was confirmed that all players and personnel needed to be fully vaccinated to compete and attend. But on Tuesday, Djokovic announced he was flying to Melbourne having received “an exemption permission”.

Djokovic’s Australian Open chances have been up in the air for several months.

After talks of a vaccine mandate started last year, the world No 1 himself admitted he “didn’t know if [he] was going” as he refused to disclose his vaccination status.

When tournament director and Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley announced in November that full vaccination was a requirement for all players, Djokovic remained coy about his participation, saying “we’ll see” and “you’ll know very soon”.

The nine-time Aussie Open champion then put his name on the entry list for the Grand Slam and for the ATP Cup, a team event held in the lead-up, as it emerged that he was looking to gain a medical exemption to enter the country unvaccinated.

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Having withdrawn from the ATP Cup after failing to make it to Australia, Djokovic then announced on Tuesday that he was flying to Melbourne to compete in the first Major of 2022 after receiving “an exemption permission”.

Tennis Australia later confirmed that the exemption was given on medical grounds, saying in a statement: “Djokovic applied for a medical exemption which was granted following a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts.”

The Independent Medical Exemption Review Panel appointed by the Victorian Department of Health worked with an “expert panel made up of doctors from the fields of immunology, infectious disease and general practice” appointed by Tennis Australia, to anonymously review applications.

While applications for a medical exemption used the national guidelines set by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), many Australians have been left outraged at the decision as Djokovic’s reason for an exemption has not been disclosed.

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On Wednesday, Craig Tiley stressed that confirmed recovery from Covid infection in the last six months counted as one of the criteria, while the Australian Government’s Department of Health outlines other reasons including “an acute major medical condition (e.g undergoing major surgery or hospital admission for a serious illness).”

But Australian fans have shared their anger at the 20-time Grand Slam champion’s exemption, with some going as far as to declare they will be boycotting the tournament when it begins on January 17.

Now, Nadal’s former long-time coach and uncle has had his say, calling for the Serb to explain why he qualified for a medical exemption to ease frustrations.

Discussing the decision in his El Pais column, Toni Nadal admitted he was surprised Djokovic received an exemption, saying: “I must admit that until the announcement on Tuesday, I thought that the Serbian player would give up participating in the tournament, or that he would take the vaccine.”

Toni, who currently coaches young Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime, continued: “Since I can’t believe that any of this happened, I think it would be good if the player himself gave some explanation.

“He does not have the obligation to disclose data that pertains to his privacy, but he must be aware that he is an international benchmark at a time of very serious global health crisis and of great sensitivity due to the enormous pain that Covid-19 is causing.”

While he called for his nephew’s long-time rival to disclose the reason for his exemption, Toni also said he believed Djokovic would be understanding to the outcry and explain his medical exemption to the fans and Australian public.

“I want to think that Novak is no stranger to all this and that he will clear up doubts as a sign of human sensitivity and understanding,” he added.

Despite Djokovic having been granted a medical exemption, that only applies to the tournament itself, and Djokovic must also receive clearance from the government to gain entry into the country.

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