Novak Djokovic included in delayed Australian Open draw as uncertainty continues

Immigration minister Alex Hawke is yet to decide whether to re-cancel the world number one’s visa.
Novak Djokovic included in delayed Australian Open draw as uncertainty continues

By Eleanor Crooks, PA Tennis Correspondent, Melbourne

Novak Djokovic was drawn against fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic as uncertainty continued over whether he will be allowed to compete in the Australian Open.

It appeared a decision from Immigration minister Alex Hawke could be imminent when the draw was postponed from 3pm at the last minute and without explanation.

But it was then announced it would be held 75 minutes later, with Hawke now not expected to make his decision until Friday.

Djokovic, who is looking to win a record 10th Australian Open and 21st grand slam title, duly took his place at the top of the draw.

If he is forced out of the tournament ahead of Monday’s order of play being announced, the seeds will be shuffled around, with fifth seed Andrey Rublev taking Djokovic’s place.

If it happens after that time but before the first-round match, he will be replaced by a lucky loser from qualifying.

Tournament director Craig Tiley attended the draw but did not take questions.

Novak Djokovic feels the heat during his practice session
Novak Djokovic feels the heat during his practice session (Mark Baker/AP)

Asked about the matter at a press conference, prime minister Scott Morrison declined to comment on Hawke’s decision but said: “Where fully-vaccinated eligible visa holders could travel to Australia without needing to apply for a travel exemption and enter those states, allowing them to enter quarantine-free, the individual has to show they are double vaccinated or must provide acceptable proof that they can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons.

“That’s the policy, which hasn’t changed. We would expect authorities to be implementing the policy of the government when it comes to those matters.”

Djokovic practised as scheduled at Melbourne Park on Thursday lunchtime, hitting with Argentinian Federico Coria behind closed doors on a roasting hot Rod Laver Arena.

He has been waiting to discover since Monday whether Hawke will re-cancel his visa despite the Serbian winning his court battle against the Australian Border Force.

Anger has been growing over the positive Covid-19 test that Djokovic’s documents show he returned on December 16th, with the Serbian admitting in a statement on Wednesday he had attended an interview with French newspaper l’Equipe two days later.

Djokovic said: “I felt obliged to go ahead and conduct the L’Equipe interview as I didn’t want to let the journalist down, but did ensure I socially distanced and wore a mask except when my photograph was being taken.

“While I went home after the interview to isolate for the required period, on reflection, this was an error of judgement and I accept that I should have rescheduled this commitment.”

Djokovic also admitted an error was made on his travel declaration form when he did not reveal he had travelled from Serbia to Spain ahead of his journey to Australia, which he attributed to his agent.

Spanish media reported Djokovic, who has a training base in Marbella, is now being investigated over entering the country without the correct visa for an unvaccinated person.

Elsewhere in the draw, Rafael Nadal was placed in the same half as Djokovic and is a potential semi-final opponent for the top seed, with third seed Alexander Zverev also in the top half.

Andy Murray’s return to Melbourne three years after the emotion of what seemed likely to be his final appearance will see him begin his campaign against Georgian 21st seed Nikoloz Basilashvili, who he beat at the Sydney Tennis Classic on Wednesday.

There were tough draws for the three British seeds, led by 17th seed Emma Raducanu, whose first grand slam match since winning the US Open pits her against 2017 New York champion Sloane Stephens.

Cameron Norrie, seeded 12th after his brilliant 2021, takes on fast-rising young American Sebastian Korda while 24th seed Dan Evans meets former top-10 star David Goffin.

Heather Watson was paired with Egypt’s Mayar Sherif while there could be a blockbuster fourth-round encounter between defending champion Naomi Osaka and world number one Ashleigh Barty.

Australian Open organisers, who have come under fire for their part in the Djokovic fiasco, were dealt another blow on Thursday when the Victoria government announced ticket sales for the tournament would be capped at 50 per cent of capacity.

No tickets will be cancelled, though, giving an indication that sales have been slower than Tennis Australia would have hoped.

The governing body suffered a loss of $100 million dollars (€63 million) on last year’s event because of significant extra costs involved in chartering planes and paying for players to quarantine for two weeks along with reduced crowds, including a brief lockdown mid-tournament.

Meanwhile, Britain’s Liam Broady joined Harriet Dart in the final round of qualifying, coming from a set down for the second match in a row in a 3-6 6-4 6-4 victory over JJ Wolf.

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