Thursday, February 22, 2024

Djokovic drawn to play Australian Open first round despite visa saga

Serbia's Novak Djokovic

MELBOURNE, January 13: Novak Djokovic was drawn Thursday to play fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round of the Australian Open despite ongoing uncertainty over whether he will still be in the country.
The world number one, top seed and defending champion is looking to clinch a 10th title at Melbourne Park starting next week and a record 21st Grand Slam crown.
But the vaccine-sceptic Djokovic’s fate remains uncertain with Australia’s Immigration Minister Alex Hawke pondering whether to revoke his visa again and throw him out of the country.
The 34-year-old Djokovic is scheduled to open his title defence either on Monday or Tuesday.
Even if he is allowed to stay, there are questions over his preparations and fitness for a gruelling two-week tournament after he was forced to spend four nights in a detention facility.
If he is ruled out of the opening Grand Slam of the year before its starts, his place will be taken by a so-called “lucky loser”, someone who lost in the final round of qualifying.
Six-seeded Spanish superstar Rafael Nadal is also gunning for a 21st Slam title and he will start against American Marcos Giron.
World number two and US Open champion Daniil Medvedev, a Melbourne finalist last year, opens against Switzerland’s Henri Laaksonen.
On the women’s side, top seed and world number one Ashleigh Barty, who won the Adelaide International last week, will meet a qualifier first up as she targets a maiden Grand Slam title on home soil.
Defending champion Naomi Osaka, seeded 13, is in Barty’s quarter of the draw and will start her title defence against Colombia’s Camila Osorio. She is projected to meet the Australian in the round of 16.
Second seed Aryna Sabalenka, who has crashed early in two warm-up tournaments, will begin against Australian Storm Sanders.
US Open champion Emma Raducanu faces a tough clash against American Sloane Stephens. (AFP)