Novak Djokovic granted visa to play in Australian Open

Novak Djokovic will be able to bid for a record-extending 10th men's singles title at next year's Australian Open after being granted a visa to travel to the Grand Slam event.

The 35-year-old tennis star confirmed on Wednesday that he has been given clearance to compete in Australia. He had been deported on the eve of the 2022 tournament in Melbourne after he arrived in the country without being vaccinated against COVID-19.

"I was very happy to receive the news yesterday," Djokovic said Wednesday after his victory over Andrey Rublev at the ATP Finals on Wednesday. "It was a relief obviously knowing what I and people closest to me in my life have been through this year with what happened in Australia and post Australia obviously."

Djokovic, the former world No. 1 who has 21 Grand Slam titles, was originally barred from the country until 2025, but that decision has now been reversed.

"I could not receive better news for sure," Djokovic said. "Australian Open has been my most successful Grand Slam. I made some of the best memories there. Of course I want to go back there, I want to play tennis, do what I do best, hopefully have a great Australian summer."

Tennis Australia said Thursday it welcomed the decision to allow Djokovic back into the country.

"We always strive to have all the best players in the world competing here in Melbourne in January and we look forward to delivering the best possible tournament for both the players and fans," it said in a statement.

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said this month that Djokovic would be welcome in January if he could get a visa, but that Tennis Australia could not lobby on his behalf.

Australia in July scrapped a rule that required international travelers to declare their COVID-19 vaccination status, and Djokovic said in October he had received "positive signs" about the status of efforts to overturn his ban.

"Mr. Djokovic has subsequently been granted a temporary visa to enter Australia,'' Immigration Minister Andrew Giles said in a statement.

Djokovic also missed this year's US Open, and the chance to match Rafael Nadal's men's record of 22 Grand Slam titles, as a result of his decision not to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Belgrade native found himself at the center of political storm in Melbourne this year, twice being held in a hotel with asylum seekers while he awaited a decision by Australia's immigration department on whether he could stay.

Australia's Federal Court finally ruled to uphold the cancellation of his visa -- originally granted on a medical exemption as he had recently had COVID-19.

Nadal went on to win the title, moving ahead of Djokovic in the race to become the player with the most major crowns.

Djokovic will now have the chance to reclaim the title at a tournament he has dominated since his first triumph there in 2008.

"Just giving that clarity [that I will start my season in Australia] makes it great for us," Djokovic said.

The Australian Open runs Jan. 16-29 in Melbourne.

Information from Reuters and The Associated Press was used in this story.