Novak Djokovic pencilled in for Australian Open first round despite looming visa decision, Ash Barty, Nick Kyrgios to face qualifiers

By by Judd Boaz
Novak Djokovic is scheduled to meet fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round. (AP: Mark Baker)

Novak Djokovic is scheduled to play at the Australian Open, despite ongoing concerns about the status of his visa.

Thursday's draw was delayed without explanation for more than an hour, with Immigration Minister Alex Hawke yet to announce whether he will use his power to cancel Djokovic's visa.

If he is allowed to stay in the country and follow through on his desire to play in the tournament, the men's world number one will begin his hunt for a historic 21st grand slam title in a clash with fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic.

In the same side of the draw as Djokovic are third-seeded Alexander Zverev and Rafael Nadal, who will be eager to stop Djokovic surpassing him in all-time grand slam wins.

Wildcard Andy Murray, last year's finalist Daniil Medvedev and Greek fan favourite Stefanos Tsitsipas are on the other side of the men's draw.

Novak Djokovic practises at Rod Laver Arena on Thursday.

Draw off then on amid political uncertainty

Earlier this week Djokovic was released from Immigration detention after winning a court challenge against Border Force's decision to cancel his visa.

The defending Open champion's visa was cancelled the morning after he arrived in Melbourne because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19.

It later emerged that he argued he did not have to be vaccinated as he had already contracted COVID-19 earlier in December.

However on Wednesday he admitted mistakes had been made on his visa application form and admitted meeting a journalist for an interview the day after he said he received news of his positive test.

The Open draw was initially scheduled for 3pm, but as it was due to begin, organisers delayed it without explanation.

Attention then shifted to Canberra, where Prime Minister Scott Morrison was speaking after a national cabinet meeting.

Asked if a decision on allowing Djokovic into the country —or not — was imminent, he said: "I will refer to Mr Hawke's most recent statement, and that position hasn't changed."

"These are personal ministerial powers able to be exercised by Minister Hawke and I don't propose to make any further comment at this time."

Before Mr Morrison had finished speaking, organisers announced the draw was going ahead, with Djokovic down to play.

On Thursday evening, the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of the Interior told the ABC there was no investigation into Djokovic's visit to the country in early January.

Barty and de Minaur lead charge for Australia

Women's world number one Ash Barty will meet an unseeded qualifier in the Open's first round, hoping to keep her winning form after a victory in the Adelaide International this week.

Tennis commentator and court announcer at the Australian Open Brett Phillips said the opening rounds would be crucial for Barty.

"For Ash it'll be fascinating," Phillips told the ABC.

"The biggest hurdle is just to get through those first four matches, and we'll see if anything presents a danger."

For the men's side of the bracket, Phillips said the key would be avoiding top-ranked players early on.

"For our men, who are super-competitive but don't have the position Ash Barty holds in the game, they can only hope they just get one or two rounds where they can work in and build some momentum."

Australia's hopes in the men's draw may hinge on number 32 seeded Alex de Minaur, who staged a confidence-building comeback win over rising star Ugo Humbert at the ATP Cup in Sydney this week.

The 22-year-old de Minaur will have a rare experience advantage in his first-round match-up with 19-year-old Italian Lorenzo Musetti.

Nick Kyrgios will play in the Australian Open, despite a COVID-19 infection that saw him pull out of the Sydney Tennis Classic earlier this week.

The 26-year-old Australian will play off against a qualifier in the first round.


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