Novak Djokovic included in Australian Open draw as top seed despite ongoing visa uncertainty

Novak Djokovic has been included as the top seed in the Australian Open’s official draw on Thursday even as a furore over the world no 1’s vaccine status ahead of the major tennis tournament continued.

It remains uncertain whether the player’s visa will be cancelled for a second time, as Australia’s top immigration officer is weighing the option of exercising discretionary powers amid over concerns Djokovic’s behaviour when it comes to Covid-19 safety protocols and the vaccine.

Djokovic, who was out practising in the Rod Laver Arena on Thursday after a judge ruled in his favour in the case and ordered his immediate release from an immigration detention facility, is now expected to play on Monday or Tuesday for his opening match.

He has been drawn again unseeded player Miomir Kecmanovic, a fellow Serbian national.

The official draw was delayed for more than an hour by the organiser Tennis Australia without any reason being provided.

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If Djokovic is asked to leave the tournament ahead of Monday’s matches, the seeds are expected to be shuffled around and fifth seed Andrey Rublev will likely replace him.

Just 24 hours earlier, Djokovic had admitted to attending an interview with a French journalist while he was positive for Covid in December, calling it an “error of judgement” in his statement.

The player was forced to reveal his Covid diagnosis as it formed the basis of his application to be exempted from Australia’s rules requiring those entering the country to be vaccinated.

Djokovic said he also made a “human error” after a mistake was noted on his Australian entry documents, which were found to have violated the country’s strict laws on reporting recent travel.

Australia has been deliberating if Djokovic should be deported.

The vaccine scepticism displayed by the 34-year-old has sparked anger in Australia after he decided to apply for a medical exemption to enter the country, which is currently witnessing its worst-ever surge in Covid cases, forcing lockdown measures in several states including the most populous New South Wales.

Australia on Thursday recorded 80,283 fresh Covid infections, the highest daily spike since the pandemic began.

After Djokovic reached the host country last week, the Australian Border Force called his exemption invalid, sending him to stay in an immigration detention hotel alongside asylum-seekers.

However the court overturned this decision and said he should be allowed to stay in the country, stating that officials had been “unreasonable” in the way Djokovic’s seven-hour interview late at night was handled.

Prime minister Scott Morrison declined to comment on the Djokovic visa issue again in an interview on Thursday, and his spoken to his Serbian counterpart about the matter. The row has become a major talking point and stoked nationalist sentiment back in Djokovic’s home country.

Elsewhere in the draw, Rafael Nadal was placed in the same half as Djokovic and is a potential semi-final opponent for the top seed, with third seed Alexander Zverev also in the top half.

Andy Murray’s return to Melbourne three years after the emotion of what seemed likely to be his final appearance will see him begin his campaign against Georgian 21st seed Nikoloz Basilashvili, who he beat at the Sydney Tennis Classic on Wednesday.

There were tough draws for the three British seeds, led by 17th seed Emma Raducanu whose first grand slam match since winning the US Open pits her against 2017 New York champion Sloane Stephens.

Cameron Norrie, seeded 12th after his brilliant 2021, takes on fast-rising young American Sebastian Korda while 24th seed Dan Evans meets former top-10 star David Goffin.

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Heather Watson was paired with Egypt’s Mayar Sherif while there could be a blockbuster fourth-round encounter between defending champion Naomi Osaka and world number one Ashleigh Barty.

Additional reporting by agencies

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