Friday, March 24, 2023

Djokovic’s relegation drama casts shadow over Australian Open

MELBOURNE, Australia ( Associated Press) – Novak Djokovic faces more time in custody, needs to avoid another court hearing and relegation over the weekend to stand a chance to defend his Australian Open title.

The odds increased for the nine-time Australian Open champion after his visa was revoked for the second time on Friday after arriving in Melbourne on January 5.

The race to any Grand Slam tournament has a hard to believe story, twists and turns involved and shows no sign of allowing any real tennis to gain attention: Djokovic still hoping to fight Australian Open are not. Have been vaccinated for COVID-19.

But Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used his ministerial discretion to revoke the 34-year-old Serb’s visa on grounds of public interest – announced it at around 6 p.m. – only three days before the start of play in the year’s first major tournament.

Three hours later, Djokovic’s lawyers began their appeal after an after-hours hearing before the same judge who last week ruled in favor of the 20-time major champion on procedural grounds after his visa was first taken to land at Melbourne airport. was later cancelled. ,

His lawyers told the court they expected an appeal hearing on Sunday and that Djokovic would return his visa in time to play next week.

Australian Open organizers then confirmed that the top half of the men’s and women’s draws would be contested on day one, meaning Djokovic needs to be ready to play on Monday.

He was ordered to report at a meeting with his lawyers and immigration officials at 8 a.m. on Saturday and was likely to be taken back into custody during the afternoon. He spent four days in an immigration detention hotel before he was released after winning his first court battle on Monday.

Djokovic held practice sessions at the Rod Laver Arena every day between the end of his imprisonment and when his visa was revoked.

In between, he was named at the top of the men’s bracket, retaining his No. 1 seeding, when he was drawn to face another Serb, Miomir Kekmanovic, in the first round.

Normally, his placement in the same side of the draw as Rafael Nadal – both players vying for a 21st major title, breaking the record he shared with Roger Federer – would make headlines.

A potential semi-final between the game’s two greats would also have attracted as much attention as a potential fourth-round contest between top-ranked Ash Barty and defending champion Naomi Osaka in the women’s draw.

But tennis matches have been of secondary interest since Djokovic flew to Melbourne and his exemptions to Australia’s strict COVID-19 vaccination rules were ruled out. He won his first court battle on procedural grounds, but the immigration minister spent the rest of the working week weighing what to do with the world’s top-ranked male player.

Djokovic’s court documents said he tested positive for the coronavirus last month, on grounds that he and the Australian Open organizers thought everyone would qualify for an exemption from vaccination rules.

The federal government disagreed.

Djokovic’s anti-vaccine stance makes him a polarizing figure in a country where coronavirus cases are on the rise despite more than 90% of the eligible population being vaccinated for COVID-19, and in a city where residents have fought the pandemic. Spent more than 260 days in lockdown during , The government’s tough stance on the border will have its supporters in Australia, but the idea of ​​presenting the saga to the world has upset many critics as well.

Nadal warmed up with a title last week at a tuneup tournament in Melbourne, where he said Djokovic could have avoided all the drama with two shots of an approved vaccine.

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tilly declined to answer questions about the tournament’s nine-time champion, but five-time finalist Andy Murray at Melbourne Park summarized the situation.

“It’s not a good situation for anyone,” Murray said. “Just wish this got sorted out obviously. I think it would be good for everyone if that was the case.

“It looks like it’s been dragged on for quite a long time now – not good for tennis, not good for the Australian Open, not good for Novak.”

Djokovic got within one win of the calendar-year Grand Slam when he lost to Daniil Medvedev in last year’s US Open final.

Djokovic’s runner-up in Melbourne last year and this time No. 2 seed Medvedev has local favorites Nick Kyrgios, No. 5 Andrey Rublev, No. 9 Felix Auger-Aliasim and John Isner in the quarters of the draw. May meet No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semi-finals.

After ending in a tough stretch, either Barty or Osaka can’t make it that far, which gives their fourth-round match the feel of a final.

The winner may meet No. 5 Maria Sakkari or No. 9 Ons Jabur in the quarterfinals.

French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova is also in the same part of a draw with 2020 champions Sofia Kenin and Coco Gauff.

Second seed Aryna Sabalenka, No. 3 Garbine Muguruza, two-time major winner Simona Halep and US Open champion Emma Radukanu, who opens against 2017 US Open winner Sloane Stephens, are on the opposite half of the draw.

Barty, desperate to end an Australian Open title drought for Australian women in 1978, warmed up by winning the Adelaide International last weekend.

1-ranked Osaka is coming back relatively fresh in 2021 after taking a pair of mental health breaks.

After winning last year’s Australian Open, she withdrew from the second round of the French Open and skipped Wimbledon. After taking another hiatus after the US Open, she slipped down the rankings and was seeded 13th.

“To be honest, I still won a Slam last year, so I don’t mind it so much,” Osaka said. “I feel like whenever I come here, or come back here at the beginning of the year, it’s like a breath of fresh air.”


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