Mystery continues to swirl over Novak Djokovic's vaccination status and involvement in the Australian Open as he remains tightlipped about whether he has received the jab.
Players must be fully vaccinated to compete in the year's first grand slam and there have been questions asked about whether Djokovic — who has made anti-vaccination comments in the past — would agree to that condition or skip the tournament altogether.
Speaking to K1 Televizija on Serbian TV this week, the tennis champion's father again raised the possibility his son may not be vaccinated and might pass on his chance win his 21st major — which would see him go one clear at the top of the list for most grand slam trophies claimed by a male player.
"They have to decide whether they will let Novak in," Srdjan Djokovic reportedly said. "If they decide (to not let Novak play), they have the stand behind their decision.
"He has won the Australian Open nine times, he now wants to play — but they have to permit him to play. Novak will do what he thinks is the best for him, nobody will impose an opinion on him.
"What to do if he ends up not going (to the Australian Open)? We will wait for Roland Garros and his (21st) grand slam title.
"He will win a few more grand slam titles until he retires. I think four or five (more). He will win at least twice in Wimbledon and some other slams for sure.
"Do you doubt that? You don't need to be an expert, but Novak will play for another two to three years and this will be enough."
Djokovic has made no secret of his desire to surpass Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to take the outright lead on the list of men's grand slam champions, and he'd have a great chance to do so in Melbourne — where he has won the trophy nine times.
Australian Open director Craig Tiley said on Wednesday a "small percentage" of unvaccinated players and staff will be granted medical exemptions to perform their duties at Melbourne Park.
Tiley also said no players have told Tennis Australian they have an exemption.
"Everyone who is coming in is vaccinated and there will be a small percentage – a very small percentage – that will have a medical exemption," Tiley said.
"So if any player, fan (or) workforce is on site here – you're either vaccinated or you have a medical exemption that's approved and you're on the Australian Immunisation Register. That provides us with safety and an extra level of comfort on site."
Tiley said he spoke to Djokovic on the weekend, revealing the Serbian wants to play — but the tennis boss still does not know his vaccination status.
"If Novak shows up at the Australian Open, he'll either be vaccinated or he'll have a medical exemption," Tiley said.
"(It's) his choice on his medical condition, it's his choice to keep personal and private like all of us would do with any condition we may or may not have. We are not going to force him or ask him to disclose that."
Any suggestion Djokovic could remain unvaccinated and still play were hosed down by Tiley earlier this month, as he addressed concerns the world No. 1 could exploit a "loophole" to compete.
"To be clear up front, no one can play the Australian Open unless they are vaccinated, on either a double dose of all the required vaccines or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson, which also is an approved vaccine," Tiley told the ABC.
"The only condition at which, outside of being vaccinated, that you could compete is if you receive a medically approved exemption from Australian authorities, specifically against the very specific ATAGI (Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation) guidelines.
"It's very clear – there's no loophole – and there's no condition of which you can play the Australian Open unless you meet that criteria."
An independent panel of medical specialists assesses all medical exemption requests, and Tiley said they didn't know the identity of anyone who applied.
"It's very specific as to what is eligible or not, and then that goes through to that expert panel and they'll make a call, so at this point it's in the process of being established," he said.
Also in December, Victorian Deputy Premier and Education Minister James Merlino shot down Djokovic's hope of playing without getting vaccinated.
"Everyone's looking forward to the Australian Open and everyone who will attend – spectators, players, officials, staff – is expected to be fully vaccinated," Merlino said.
"Medical exemptions are just that – it's not a loophole for privileged tennis players.
"It is a medical exemption in exceptional circumstances if you have an acute medical condition."
Tennis Australia also released a statement on the matter a few weeks ago, declaring medical exemptions would have to follow "strict government guidelines".
"All players, participants and staff at the Australian Open have to be vaccinated," the statement read. "Any application for a medical exemption must follow strict government guidelines based on ATAGI clinical advice.
"This is the same process that applies to any person wanting to enter Australia. Any suggestion that Tennis Australia is seeking 'loopholes' within this process is simply untrue.
"Adjudicating on medical exemptions is the domain of independent medical experts. We are not in a position to influence this process and nor should we.
"The safety of everyone is always our priority as we plan for Australian Open 2022 and all lead-in events."