With No Djokovic Resolution, Australian Open Draw Goes On

Novak Djokovic (photo: George Sal / Tennis Australia)

MELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, January 13, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

The start of the 2022 Australian Open has been anything but the “Happy Slam,” as the year’s first major is often called. Instead, it’s been more like the “Limbo Slam,” with everyone’s attention focused on Novak Djokovic and his battle with the Australian government over whether he will be allowed to remain in the country to play in this year’s first major. Unvaccinated, unlike nearly all of the other players competing in Melbourne, Djokovic required a medical exemption to play in the Australian Open, which Tennis Australia and the state government of Victoria provided on the basis of his recent case of COVID-19.

Thursday afternoon’s draw ceremony was delayed for 75 minutes, which kindled speculation over whether Immigration Minister Alex Hawke, who has the authority to cancel Djokovic’s visa and order his deportation, had reached a decision. He hadn’t, and Scott Morrison, the Australian prime minister, had nothing new to say during an afternoon press conference. However, it didn’t stop opinions from flowing on social media and elsewhere on the matter of Djokovic’s status.

“Limbo is the worst scenario for the tournament,” former Australian Open tournament director Paul McNamee told New York Times tennis correspondent Christopher Clarey.

If the World No. 1 Djokovic does remain, the nine-time defending men’s champion from Serbia will be allowed to chase after a 10th Australian Open title and a potential 21st career Grand Slam. If not – if the Australian government revokes his visa and sends him packing – the draw would have to be reconfigured. Not to worry, there are specific Grand Slam rules that cover such a circumstance should it happen.

In the meantime, the 34-year-old Djokovic’s name was slotted in a familiar place for him at the top of the men’s bracket. He will meet younger Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round and could face American Tommy Paul in the second round. Looking ahead, a third-round opponent might be 25th seed Lorenzo Sonego of Italy, then a fourth-round matchup with either No. 16 seed Gaël Monfils of France or No. 17 seed Cristian Garin of Chile. No. 7 seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy, who lost to Djokovic in last year’s Wimbledon final, is a potential quarterfinal opponent. Then, either World No. 3 Alexander Zverev of Germany or 20-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal of Spain, ranked 6th, would likely face Djokovic in the semifinals.

Anchoring the lower-half of the men’s draw is World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev of Russia, who beat Djokovic in the title match of the 2021 US Open, the most recently contested major. World No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, World No. 5 Andrey Rublev of Russia, World No. 8 Casper Ruud of Norway, World No. 9 Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada and World No. 11 Jannik Sinner of Italy are also featured in the draw’s lower half.

Hardly a walk in Melbourne Park for Nadal

One question circulating Thursday on social media centered around 2009 champion Rafael Nadal, who has also reached the Australian Open final on four other occasions: “Anybody recall seeing a draw this tough for one of the Big Three?”

Nadal, who warmed up for this year’s Australian Open by winning last week’s Melbourne Summer Set at Melbourne Park in his first ATP tour-level event since last August, was drawn to face No. 66 Marcos Giron of the United States. From there, he could face Australian wild card Thanasi Kokkinakis in the second round followed by World No. 29 Karen Khachanov of Russia. Then, it gets even tougher for Nadal as possible fourth-round opponents include 2021 Australian Open semifinalist Aslan Karatsev of Russia, ranked 20th, or World No. 10 Hubert Hurkacz of Poland. A possible quarterfinal showdown with either World No. 3 Alexander Zverev or World No. 14 Denis Shapovalov looms followed by defending champion Novak Djokovic in the semifinals.

Among the notables missing from this year’s men’s draw due to injuries: 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer of Switzerland; fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka, who won the 2014 title, and World No. 15 Dominic Thiem of Austria, who was a 2020 finalist.

Barty could play defending champion Osaka in fourth round

Meanwhile, if limbo seemed to be a major theme of the men’s draw, the women’s singles draw went much smoother by all appearances. No controversies, but plenty of depth, thank you. At the top of the draw is World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty of Australia, who will attempt to become the first Aussie to win the women’s title since Chris O’Neil in 1978. She won last week’s Adelaide International 1 tune-up to start her season on a winning note.

The 25-year-old Barty, who last year reached the quarterfinal round, will open against a qualifier and likely would face No. 79 Varvara Gracheva of Russia in the second round. Then, No. 30 seed Camila Giorgi of Italy could be a third-round opponent followed by defending champion and 13th seed Naomi Osaka from Japan in the fourth round, who will be attempting to win her third Australian Open women’s title.

Then, in the quarterfinal round, possible opponents for Barty include No. 5 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece or No. 9 seed Ons Jabeur from Tunisia. In the semifinals, No. 4 seed Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic and No. 8 seed Paula Badosa of Spain loom large.

In the lower half of the draw, the top seeds include: No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, No. 3 seed Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain, No. 6 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia and No. 7 seed Iga Swiatek of Poland. They’ve won a combined three Grand Slam titles and Kontaveit remains one of the the hottest players on tour after garnering four hard-court titles since August.

Among the women missing in action in Melbourne this year: 23-time major champion Serena Williams and her sister, Venus Williams. Serena hasn’t played since retiring from her first-round match at Wimbledon, while Venus has been idle since August. Plus, there’s also World No. 5 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, No. 27 Jennifer Brady of the United States, who was a semifinalist last year; and No. 46 Bianca Andreescu of Canada. All except for Andreescu are recovering from injuries while the Canadian No. 2 will be missing due to taking care of her mental health.