Novak Djokovic was paired with fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic in the Australian Open first round draw – but it remains to be seen whether the world No 1 is actually allowed to play the match.
The nine-time Melbourne champion, who is the No 1 seed for the upcoming Slam, is waiting for the Australian federal government to decide if he will be deported for lying on his visa form.
The draw on Thursday afternoon was delayed at very short notice while Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison gave a press conference on Covid-19 matters.
But Morrison said no decision had yet been made on Djokovic’s fate and so his name was included in the draw, which started 75 minutes later than planned. A decision on Djokovic is now not expected on Thursday.
Australian Open officials nervously awaited any new announcements from Morrison as Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke decides whether to use his ministerial powers to deport Djokovic despite the 34-year-old’s court victory earlier this week.
It came as the 20-time Grand Slam winner, who has not been vaccinated, faced questions not only in Australia, but also Spain and his homeland of Serbia, after he admitted breaking Serbia’s Covid-19 isolation rules.
Novak Djokovic on the practice courts in Melbourne on Thursday as he awaits a final decision on whether he can remain in Australia to compete in the first Slam of the year
Djokovic was paired with fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic when the draw was made
Djokovic admitted on Wednesday to attending events in Belgrade while infected with the virus and the Daily Mail also revealed he may have broken Spain’s emergency travel regulations when visiting Marbella last month.
He took to Instagram to confess he attended an interview with a French sports newspaper after testing positive for Covid.
He said: ‘I felt obliged to go ahead and conduct the L’Equipe interview as I didn’t want to let the journalist down.’
He added that attending the engagement was an ‘error of judgment’ and he should have rescheduled.
Djokovic pictured at a booth of the Border Force at the airport in Melbourne on January 5
But the star is also under fire for posing maskless when he presented awards to some of Serbia’s top young tennis talent on December 17.
And Djokovic faces further scrutiny after it emerged his trip to Spain may have fallen foul of the country’s entry requirements.
Nonetheless, Djokovic’s name appeared in the draw for the Australian Open, which gets underway on Monday and he will play Kecmanovic first if allowed to stay and compete.
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.
LEFT: A photo uploaded to Twitter shows Djokovic with handball player Petar Djordjic in Belgrade. RIGHT: Novak Djokovic is pictured playing on court in Marbella on January 4
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.
Elsewhere in the draw, Andy Murray faces a quick rematch with Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili, whom he defeated in Sydney on Wednesday.
US Open champion Emma Raducanu has been handed a tough draw against American Sloane Stephens, who has slipped to No 68 in the world rankings but reached the Melbourne semi-finals nine years ago.
British US Open champion Emma Raducanu will face Sloane Stephens in the opening round
Andy Murray (left) will play Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili (right) in the first round just days after they met at the Sydney Tennis Classic on Wednesday
Defending champion Naomi Osaka was drawn against young Colombian Camila Osorio as she prepares to make her return to the big stage and could meet top seed Ashleigh Barty in the fourth round.
British seeds Cameron Norrie and Dan Evans were given tough draws. Norrie, the 12th seed, will meet rising young American Sebastian Korda while Evans takes on former top-10 star David Goffin.
Heather Watson, the only other British player to have directly qualified for the main draw, takes on Egypt’s Mayar Sherif.
Rafael Nadal was placed in the same half as Djokovic, meaning he could meet him in the semi-finals.
Alexander Zverev was also in the top half, with second seed and US Open champion Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas in the bottom half.
Key moments in Novak Djokovic’s Aussie Open bid
By Karen Sweeney in Melbourne for Australian Associated Press
Tennis world No.1 Novak Djokovic is still focused on defending his Australian Open title and winning a record-breaking 21st men’s grand slam tournament but the road to Melbourne has been bumpy and the path is not yet clear.
October/November – Djokovic applies for a temporary visa to enter Australia and compete in the 2022 Australian Open.
November 18 – Granted a Temporary Activity (subclass 408) visa.
December 14 – Attends a basketball match in Belgrade, Serbia, where attendees contract COVID-19.
December 16 – Djokovic is ‘tested and diagnosed’ with COVID-19. Documents show he was tested at 1.05pm and the result was returned at 8.19pm.
December 17 – Attends events in Belgrade, including a trophy presentation for junior tennis players. Pictured not wearing a mask and posing side-by-side indoors with a large group of children.
December 18 – Djokovic says he learned of the positive test and cancelled several scheduled events. Goes ahead with an interview and photoshoot with French newspaper L’Equipe, saying he felt ‘obliged’ because ‘I didn’t want to let the journalist down’.
December 22 – Returns a negative PCR test.
December 25 – Filmed by a fan playing tennis on a street in Belgrade. He is also photographed alongside Serbian handball player Petar Djordjic.
December 30 – Tennis Australia notify Djokovic he has been granted a temporary medical exemption, allowing him to play in the Australian Open despite not being vaccinated against COVID-19. The exemption was granted on the basis of a previous infection, based on the opinion of one panel of medical experts and reviewed by another.
December 31 – Filmed training at a tennis academy in Sotogrande, Spain. The academy post photos on its Instagram of him posing for pictures with fans a day later.
January 1 – Authorises his agent to complete his Australian Travel Declaration. The document says Djokovic had not travelled in the 14 days prior to his intended arrival in Australia. Later admits the form contained an error in not acknowledging his travel between Serbia and Spain. Djokovic said his agent was notified by the Department of Home Affairs that the declaration had been assessed and he met the requirements for a quarantine-free arrival.
January 2 – Granted a border travel permit by the Victorian government.
January 4 – Announces on Instagram he is ‘heading Down Under with an exemption’. The post was made shortly before he departed for Melbourne, via Dubai. News of his impending arrival sparks controversy in Australia.
January 5 – Arrives in Melbourne at 11.30pm.
January 6 – Australian Border Force officials detain Djokovic. After a series of early morning interviews his visa is cancelled at 7.29am. His lawyers are granted a temporary injunction by the Federal Circuit Court. Djokovic is taken to the Park Hotel, which is being used as an immigration detention centre.
January 7 – Spends Orthodox Christmas in his hotel room.
January 10 – After a lengthy hearing, a judge quashes the government’s decision to cancel Djokovic’s visa after lawyers concede the decision was unreasonable in the circumstances. Judge Anthony Kelly rules Djokovic be paid his costs and freed from immigration detention. Government lawyers note Immigration Minister Alex Hawke still has a personal power to revoke Djokovic’s visa.
January 11 – Djokovic posts a photo of himself training at Rod Laver Arena. ‘Despite all that has happened in the past week, I want to stay and to try to compete at the Australian Open,’ he says. Questions are raised over his Australian Travel Declaration after documents released by the court revealed he answered ‘no’ to the question about travel in the 14 days before his arrival.
January 12 – Posts a statement on Instagram to correct ‘continuing misinformation’. He admits knowingly going through with the L’Equipe interview while positive for COVID-19. He also apologises for the ‘administrative mistake’ on the travel declaration. Mr Hawke’s office say the minister is still considering whether to exercise his power to revoke Djokovic’s visa.