Djokovic in Australian Open draw despite visa uncertainty

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Defending men’s champion Serbia’s Novak Djokovic practices on Rod Laver Arena ahead of the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. AP Photo/Mark Baker)

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Novak Djokovic now knows he’ll face fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round of his Australian Open title defense, if he’s allowed to play.

Djokovic’s visa status dominated attention until the moment the draw was conducted Thursday, after a postponement of 75 minutes, to determine the brackets for the men’s and women’s singles draws at the first major tennis tournament of 2022.

He was still in limbo after it.

The Australian immigration minister was still considering whether to deport the nine-time and defending Australian Open champion, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19.

Top-ranked Djokovic had his visa canceled on arrival in Melbourne last week when his vaccination exemption was rejected, but he won a legal battle on procedural grounds that allowed him to stay in the country.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has been considering the question since a judge reinstated Djokovic’s visa last Monday. The tournament starts next Monday.

If he’s allowed to stay, Djokovic’s bid for a men’s record 21st major title could mean a quarterfinal against No. 7-ranked Matteo Berrettini and possibly a semifinal against Rafael Nadal or third-seeded Alexander Zverev.

He is tied with Nadal and Roger Federer on 20 Grand Slam titles, missing a chance for the all-time record when he lost the U.S. Open final to Daniil Medvedev last year.

Medvedev, who also ended Djokovic’s run at a calendar-year Grand Slam with that win in New York, is on the opposite end of the draw as the No. 2 seed in Australia. A finalist here last year, he could meet local favorite Nick Kyrgios in the second round, and also No. 5 Andrey Rublev, No. 9 Felix Auger-Aliassime, John Isner in his quarter of the draw. He’s seeded to meet No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semis.

On the women’s side, top-ranked Ash Barty and defending champion Naomi Osaka ended up in the same section of the draw, meaning two of the best players in the tournament could meet in a fourth-round match that could have the feeling of a final.

After that, No. 5 Maria Sakkari or No. 9 Ons Jabeur could be waiting in the quarterfinals.

Osaka, who has been ranked as high as No. 1, slid down the list because of her lack of matches in 2021 and is seeded 13th.

French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova and No. 8 Paula Badosa are in the same half of the draw, along with 2020 champion Sofia Kenin, who has a tough opener against fellow American Madison Keys and could meet No. 18 Coco Gauff in the third round.

In the other half of the draw, No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka has a first-round meeting against wild-card entry Storm Sanders and is seeded to WTA Finals winner Garbine Muguruza in the semifinals.

Muguruza is in same quarter as U.S. Open champion Emma Raducanu, who opens against 2017 U.S. Open winner Sloane Stephens, and three-time major winner Simona Halep.

The draw ceremony was delayed amid uncertainty over Djokovic’s visa status.

It was was scheduled to be held at 3 p.m. local time, but a tournament official told waiting media that the ceremony had been delayed until further notice and declined comment. It eventually started around 4:15 p.m. local time.

Tournament director Craig Tiley declined to answer questions about Djokovic after the draw.

According to the 2022 Grand Slam Rule Book, if Djokovic is forced to pull out of the tournament before the order of play for Day 1 is announced, No. 5 seed Rublev would move into Djokovic’s spot in the bracket.

If Djokovic withdraws from the tournament after Monday’s schedule is released, he would be replaced in the field by what’s known as a “lucky loser” — a player who loses in the qualifying tournament but gets into the main draw because of another player’s exit before competition has started.

And if Djokovic plays in a match — or more — and then is told he can no longer participate in the tournament, his next opponent would simply advance to the following round and there would be no replacement.

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