Novak Djokovic faces Miomir Kecmanovic in Australian Open first round - if allowed to play

World No 1 drawn against fellow Serb in Melbourne but country's immigration minister could yet deport defending champion

Novak Djokovic is set to take on fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round of the Australian Open — although it remains uncertain whether the world No 1 will be allowed to play.

The 34-year-old defending champion, who practised at the Rod Laver Arena on Thursday, drew unseeded Kecmanovic for his opening match that should take place on Monday or Tuesday. Organisers Tennis Australia had delayed the draw for more than an hour, without saying why.

Top-ranked Djokovic had his visa cancelled 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.

Australia's immigration minister Alex Hawke was still considering whether to deport the nine-time champion, who is not vaccinated against Covid-19. The tournament starts next Monday.

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

If he’s allowed to stay, Djokovic’s bid for a men's record 21st major title could mean a quarter-final against No 7-ranked Matteo Berrettini and possibly a semi-final against Rafael Nadal or third-seed 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 US Open final to Daniil Medvedev last year.

Spanish sixth seed Nadal starts against unseeded American Marcos Giron. Russian second seed Medvedev, who lost to Djokovic in last year's final in Melbourne, will play Swiss Henri Laaksonen.

Britain's former world No 1 Andy Murray was drawn against 21st seed Nikoloz Basilashvili — a day after beating the Georgian in the Sydney Tennis Classic.

In the women's draw, defending champion Naomi Osaka takes on Colombia's Camila Osorio while world No 1 Ashleigh Barty starts her quest for a first home Grand Slam title against a qualifier.

Top seed Barty could face Japan's Osaka, seeded 13th as she returns after a four-month break from the sport, in the fourth round. After that, No 5 Maria Sakkari or No 9 Ons Jabeur could be waiting in the quarter-finals.

Sofia Kenin, who was champion in 2020, has a tough opener against fellow American Madison Keys and could meet No 18 seed Coco Gauff in the third round. Britain's US Open champion Emma Raducanu, seeded 17th, faces American world No 68 Sloane Stephens.

Meanwhile, world No 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas has described Djokovic as having been “playing by his own rules” ahead of the tournament.

On Wednesday, Djokovic released a long statement explaining why he was not in isolation after testing positive for Covid-19 in December — that paved the way for his medical exemption for the first Grand Slam of the year — and saying his agent had made a mistake in filling out his Australian travel declaration.

“For sure, he's been playing by his own rules and has been doing what not many players had the guts to do, especially after the ATP announced certain criteria for players to enter the country,” Greece's Tsitsipas told India's WION news channel.

“No one really thought they could come to Australia unvaccinated and not having to follow the protocols … it takes a lot of daring to do and putting the Grand Slam at risk, which I don't think many players would do.”

The ATP, which governs men's tennis, has said 97 of the top 100 male players are vaccinated. Asked if Djokovic should defend his title at Melbourne Park next week as his visa saga continues, Tsitsipas said: “There are two ways to look at it. One side of it is that almost every single player is fully vaccinated … and have followed the protocols to play in Australia.

“On the other hand, it seems not everyone is playing by the rules … a very small majority chose to follow their own way, which kind of makes the majority look like fools.”

Updated: January 13th 2022, 12:13 PM