MELBOURNE, Jan 13 (Reuters) – World tennis number one Novak Djokovic was confirmed in the Australian Open draw on Thursday despite uncertainty over whether the government will cancel his visa for a second time.
The 34-year-old defending champion was drawn to play unseeded fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round at Melbourne Park.
However, Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke could yet scuttle the Serbian superstar’s bid for a record 21st major tennis title and 10th at Melbourne Park.
Hawke is weighing exercising discretionary powers to revoke Djokovic’s visa again after it was already cancelled on the Serb’s arrival at Melbourne airport.
The buildup to the year’s first Grand Slam has been completely dominated by the saga.
Djokovic, a vaccine sceptic, was given a medical exemption to play without COVID-19 vaccination but Australian Border Force officials decided the exemption was invalid.
He was then detained for several days before being freed on Monday after winning a court case.
The draw ceremony at Melbourne Park was delayed by an hour and 15 minutes without explanation. Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley appeared at the draw but declined to take questions.
If Australia declines to move against Djokovic again, the Serb has a reasonably smooth path to the second week of the Grand Slam, with seventh seeded Italian Matteo Berrettini looming as a potential quarter-final opponent.
Sixth seed Rafa Nadal, who is level with Djokovic on 20 Grand Slam titles along with the absent Roger Federer, will open his campaign against unseeded American Marcos Giron.
Russian second seed Daniil Medvedev, thrashed by Djokovic in last year’s final at Melbourne Park, will play Swiss Henri Laaksonen, while third seed Alex Zverev meets German Daniel Altmaier.
In the women’s draw, top seed and home hero Ash Barty will start her bid for a maiden Australian Open title against a qualifier. Naomi Osaka, seeded 13th, will start her title defence against Colombia’s Camila Osorio. (Reporting by John Mair and Ian Ransom; Editing by Himani Sarkar)
Photo Novak Djokovic of Serbia is seen in action during a training session at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia, 12 January 2022. EPA-EFE/JAMES ROSS AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND OUT