After a delay in the Australian Open draw, Novak Djokovic was set to open title defense against compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic

MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic now knows he will face compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round of his Australian Open title defense, if allowed to play.

Djokovic’s visa status dominated attention until Thursday, after a 75-minute delay, with the draw to determine the brackets for the men’s and women’s singles draws at the first major tennis tournament of 2022.

After that, he was still in limbo.

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

At the summit, Djokovic’s visa was canceled on arrival in Melbourne last week when his vaccination waiver was rejected, but he won a legal battle on procedural grounds allowing him to remain in the country.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has been looking into the case since a judge restored Djokovic’s visa on Monday. The tournament starts next Monday.

Expectations of a pending decision were aroused Thursday when Prime Minister Scott Morrison called an afternoon press conference after a national cabinet meeting. Speculation grew when the tournament draw was postponed until after Morrison’s press conference.

But the wait continued after both events concluded, with Morrison referring questions about Djokovic to his immigration minister.

“These are personal ministerial powers that can be exercised by Secretary of State Hawke and I do not intend to comment further at this time,” Morrison said.

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley also declined to comment after the drawing ceremony.

If allowed to stay, Djokovic’s bid for a men’s record 21st major title against 78th-seeded Kecmanovic will begin, and could mean a quarter-final against number 7 Matteo Berrettini and possibly a semi-final against Rafael Nadal or third-seeded Alexander Zverev.

Djokovic is on par with Nadal and Roger Federer at 20 Grand Slam titles and missed a shot at the record when he lost the US Open final to Daniil Medvedev last year.

Medvedev, who also ended Djokovic’s run in a calendar year Grand Slam with that win in New York, is on the other side of the draw as the number 2 in Australia. He was a finalist here last year and was able to face local favorite Nick Kyrgios in the second round, as well as No. 5 Andrey Rublev, No. 9 Felix Auger-Aliassime and John Isner in his quarter of the draw. He is qualified to face the number 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semifinals.

In the women’s league, top Ash Barty and defending champion Naomi Osaka finished in the same section of the draw, meaning two of the top players in the tournament could meet in a fourth-round match that could have the feel of a final.

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

Osaka, which has been ranked as high as No. 1, slipped from the list due to its lack of competitions in 2021 and is in 13th place.

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 compatriot Madison Keys and No. 18 Coco Gauff in the third round could meet.

In the other half of the draw, No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka will face wildcard entry Storm Sanders in the first round and will be seeded to face WTA Finals winner Garbine Muguruza in the semifinals.

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

The drawing ceremony was postponed due to uncertainty over Djokovic’s visa status. The ceremony was set to take place at 3 p.m. local time, but a tournament official told waiting media that the ceremony had been postponed until further notice and declined to comment. It finally started around 4:15 PM local time.

According to the 2022 Grand Slam Rule Book, if Djokovic is forced to withdraw from the tournament before the play order for Day 1 is announced, Rublev with number 5 would move to Djokovic’s spot in the bracket.

If Djokovic withdraws from the tournament after Monday’s game schedule was announced, he would be replaced in the field by what is known as a “lucky loser” – a player who loses in the qualifier but ends up in the main draw because another player leave earlier competition has started.

And if Djokovic plays in a match – or more – and is then told that he can no longer participate in the tournament, his next opponent simply moves on to the next round and there is no replacement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Give a Comment