Sports

Novak Djokovic included in delayed Australian Open draw


Novak Djokovic was included in the Australian Open official draw on Thursday, although uncertainty remained about whether the Australian government will cancel the top seed’s visa for a second time.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke is weighing up whether to exercise his discretionary powers to revoke Djokovic’s visa over concerns about the superstar’s medical exemption from Australia’s Covid-19 vaccination requirements.

Djokovic, who was out practicing on Rod Laver Arena earlier on Thursday, drew unseeded fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic for his opening round match, expected to be played on Monday or Tuesday.

Rafael Nadal was placed in the same half, meaning he could meet Djokovic 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.

Andy Murray’s Australian Open return will come against 21st seed Nikoloz Basilashvili, who he beat in Sydney on Wednesday.

Organisers Tennis Australia had delayed the official draw for more than an hour, without explanation.

Djokovic, a vaccine sceptic, fuelled widespread anger in Australia last week when he announced he was heading to Melbourne with a medical exemption from requirements for visitors to be inoculated against Covid-19.

On his arrival, Australian Border Force officials decided his exemption was invalid and he was held alongside asylum-seekers at an immigration detention hotel for several days.

A court on Monday allowed him to stay on the grounds that officials had been “unreasonable” in the way they handled his interview in a seven-hour process in the middle of the night.

The Australian government, which has won strong support at home for its tough stance on border security before and during the pandemic, must now decide whether to let Djokovic remain and bid for a record 21st major title.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison declined to comment on Djokovic’s visa on Thursday.

Djokovic’s cause was not helped by a mistake in his entry declaration, where the box stating he had not travelled abroad in the two weeks prior to leaving for Australia was ticked.

In fact, he had gone to Spain from Serbia.

Djokovic, 34, attributed the error to his agent and acknowledged he also should have rescheduled an interview and photoshoot for a French newspaper on December 18th while infected with Covid-19.

Fans, including many Serbian Australians, gave him noisy support when he was detained, anti-vaxxers have hailed him as a hero and his family have portrayed him as a champion for individual rights.

But Djokovic may face hostility from the crowd if and when he walks out on court.

There is widespread anger over the saga among Australians, who have a 90 per cent vaccination rate among adults and are battling a wave of the Omicron variant after enduring some of the world’s longest lockdowns aimed at curbing the pandemic.



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