Novak Djokovic drawn in Australian Open first round despite visa row

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  • Novak Djokovic
    Novak Djokovic
    Serbian tennis player
  • Miomir Kecmanovic
    Serbian tennis player

Watch: Djokovic drawn against Miomir Kecmanovic in Australian Open

Novak Djokovic has been drawn against fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round of Monday’s Australian Open, despite a last-minute delay in the draw ceremony which left many assuming that he was about to be ejected from the country.

On another afternoon of intrigue in Melbourne, Tennis Australia abruptly postponed the draw from its scheduled 3pm slot to 4.15pm. All eyes then turned to ABC News to see if prime minister Scott Morrison was about to rule on Djokovic’s visa.

Morrison was due to speak to media at 3.45pm, but in the event he barely addressed Djokovic’s prospects during a general update on Covid infection rates. The Australian Open’s tournament referee, Wayne McKewen, later told reporters that the draw delay had been caused by a “[Covid] testing issue” involving “someone else”.

Australia’s immigration minister, Alex Hawke, is yet to rule on Djokovic’s fate. Local news sources tended to suggest that opinion had hardened and that a deportation was now more likely than not. However, the Melbourne Age reported this morning that, once again, there would be no decision on Thursday.

During Morrison’s press conference in Canberra, he faced a late question on the Djokovic issue. He replied that the decision came under Hawke’s “personal ministerial powers”, and that he had nothing more to say.

Djokovic himself had practised with Argentina’s Federico Coria on Rod Laver Arena at 1pm. He is preparing for his title defence as if nothing unusual were afoot. But if Hawke should rule against him, the draw will have to be reorganised, adding further disruption to an event that has already been overshadowed by the immigration row.

Were Djokovic not to participate after all, the No 5 seed Andrey Rublev would replace him in the first line of the draw, unless the decision came so late that the order of play had already been released. In that case, a “lucky loser” who had lost in the final round of qualifying would be called in to face a relieved Kecmanovic.

Meanwhile, Djokovic’s decision to release an Instagram statement on Wednesday about his movements is looking increasingly as if it has backfired, with Spain becoming the latest country to investigate his conduct. A report in local Spanish media suggested that Djokovic might have breached regulations by entering Spain in December without either a vaccination certificate or a medical exemption.

To return to the Australian Open, British hope Emma Raducanu has been drawn against the former US Open champion Sloane Stephens in the first round. Raducanu will go into the Australian Open with only one competitive match under her belt all season, and that a 6-0, 6-1 thrashing at the hands of Elena Rybakina in Sydney this week. Stephens now stands at No 68 in the world and was recently married to the former Sunderland striker Jozy Altidore.

Other British draws threw up a case of deja vu for Andy Murray, who came through a 3hr 13min marathon against world No 23 Nikoloz Basilashvili in Sydney on Wednesday, and will play him again in the first round of the Australian Open.

Dan Evans, meanwhile, will take on David Goffin as he looks to continue his strong start to the season. And last year’s Indian Wells champion Cameron Norrie is to play the hotly tipped young American Sebastian Korda, whose father Petr won the title here in 1998.

Watch: Top tennis players train ahead of Australia Open draw

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