Novak Djokovic included in delayed Australian Open draw

Serbian to play compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic with visa decision still pending

Novak Djokovic has been included in the Australian Open draw as the wait to see if his visa will be cancelled for a second time stretches into another day.

As he looks to compete for a men’s record 21st grand slam title, Djokovic has been drawn to face his compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic. However, Alex Hawke, the Australian immigration minister, continues to deliberate over whether to use his personal powers to cancel Djokovic’s visa and deport him from the country. According to the federal government, Djokovic arrived in Melbourne without an acceptable medical exemption.

The Australian Open draw ceremony was attended by embattled Tennis Australia chief executive, Craig Tiley, who refused to take questions from a journalist afterwards. It was also the source of significant speculation as the ceremony, initially scheduled for 3pm (4qm Irish time) in Melbourne, was postponed at the very last moment for over an hour.

The abrupt postponement triggered speculation about Djokovic’s status, particularly as Scott Morrison, the prime minister, was scheduled to give an announcement 45 minutes later. Morrison’s address was rather about Australia’s Covid rules, but during his press conference he reiterated that Hawke has the powers to cancel visas.

“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,” Morrison said.

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

A Tennis Australia official later said that the draw ceremony’s postponement was due to “another person” and cited “testing issue” without elaborating. Despite being overshadowed by Djokovic’s visa situation, the draws were eventually conducted smoothly. Emma Raducanu will make her Australian Open debut in a showcase match between US Open champions as she faces Sloane Stephens, who won at Flushing Meadows in 2017.

Stephens, who married former Sunderland footballer Jozy Altidore on New Year’s Day, has fallen in the rankings since her major success and she is currently ranked 68th. Heather Watson, the only other British player in the women’s draw, faces the unseeded Egyptian, Mayar Sherif.

The women’s draw also placed the two most successful women’s players in recent years on a potential collision course, with Ash Barty, the world No 1, projected to face Naomi Osaka, the defending champion, in the fourth round. Osaka, who is seeded 16th due to her sparse schedule over the past 18 months, faces a tough draw that could include in-form Amanda Anisimova or Belinda Bencic in the third round. Barty and Osaka have not faced each other since 2019 despite the widespread hope that they will eventually form an era-defining rivalry.

Should he be free to compete, Djokovic has a helpful draw as he looks to play himself into form, with clay court specialist Cristian Garin the highest ranked player in his section. Djokovic continued his preparations for the Open on Thursday by training with Federico Coria, the world No 64, on Rod Laver Arena. After starting with some groundstroke drills, Djokovic and Coria finished their session by playing points together.

Elsewhere, Andy Murray faces a rematch of Wednesday’s gruelling three-set win over Nikoloz Basilashvili in Sydney as the pair face each other again in the first round. Rafael Nadal’s return to regular competition after a chronic foot injury continues as he faces Marcos Giron in the first round of the Australian Open. Cameron Norrie, the 12th seed, faces a tough first round against youngster Sebastian Korda, while Dan Evans will start against David Goffin of Belgium.

Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Bernard Tomic has tested positive for Covid after he correctly predicted his symptoms during his qualifying match on Tuesday. Tomic had taken to the court in his first qualifying round against Roman Safullin while feeling sick. During the match, he told the umpire that he believed he had early Covid symptoms despite a negative rapid flow test. “For sure in the next two days I will test positive, I’m telling you,” Tomic said. “I will buy you dinner if I don’t test positive in three days. Otherwise you buy me dinner.”

During the match, Tomic decried the lack of regular testing for players at the Australian Open. While they are required to do rapid flow tests each day in their hotel rooms, PCR tests are only required on their first and sixth days in Melbourne. After isolating in his room following his match, Tomic’s PCR test came back positive. - Guardian