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After Australian Open draw delay, Novak Djokovic slated to open title defense against fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic

MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic now knows he’ll face fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round of his Australian Open title defense, if he’s allowed to play.

Djokovic’s visa status dominated attention until the moment the draw was conducted Thursday, after a postponement of 75 minutes, to determine the brackets for the men’s and women’s singles draws at the first major tennis tournament of 2022.

He was still in limbo after it.

The Australian immigration minister was still considering whether to deport the nine-time and defending Australian Open champion, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19.

Top-ranked Djokovic had his visa canceled 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.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has been considering the matter since a judge reinstated Djokovic’s visa on Monday. The tournament starts next Monday.

Expectations of a pending decision were raised Thursday when Prime Minister Scott Morrison called an afternoon news conference after a national Cabinet meeting. Speculation heightened when the tournament draw was postponed until after Morrison’s news conference.

But the wait continued after both events concluded, with Morrison referring questions on Djokovic to his immigration minister.

“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,” Morrison said.

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley also declined comment after the draw ceremony.

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If he’s allowed to stay, Djokovic’s bid for a men’s-record 21st major title will begin against 78th-ranked Kecmanovic, and could mean a quarterfinal against No. 7-ranked Matteo Berrettini and possibly a semifinal against Rafael Nadal or third-seeded Alexander Zverev.

Djokovic is tied with Nadal and Roger Federer at 20 Grand Slam titles, missing a chance for the record when he lost the US Open final to Daniil Medvedev last year.

Medvedev, who also ended Djokovic’s run at a calendar-year Grand Slam with that win in New York, is on the opposite end of the draw as the No. 2 seed in Australia. A finalist here last year, he could meet local favorite Nick Kyrgios in the second round, and also No. 5 Andrey Rublev, No. 9 Felix Auger-Aliassime and John Isner in his quarter of the draw. He’s seeded to meet No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semis.

On the women’s side, top-ranked Ash Barty and defending champion Naomi Osaka ended up in the same section of the draw, meaning two of the best players in the tournament could meet in a fourth-round match that could have the feeling of a final.

After that, No. 5 Maria Sakkari or No. 9 Ons Jabeur could be waiting in the quarterfinals.

Osaka, who has been ranked as high as No. 1, slid down the list because of her lack of matches in 2021 and is seeded 13th.

French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova and No. 8 Paula Badosa are in the same half of the draw, along with 2020 champion Sofia Kenin, who has a tough opener against fellow American Madison Keys and could meet No. 18 Coco Gauff in the third round.

In the other half of the draw, No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka has a first-round meeting against wild-card entry Storm Sanders and is seeded to meet WTA Finals winner Garbine Muguruza in the semifinals.

Muguruza is in same quarter as US Open champion Emma Raducanu, who opens against 2017 US Open winner Sloane Stephens, and three-time major winner Simona Halep.

The draw ceremony was delayed amid the uncertainty over Djokovic’s visa status. It was scheduled to be held at 3 p.m. local time, but a tournament official told waiting media that the ceremony had been delayed until further notice and declined comment. It eventually started around 4:15 p.m. local time.

According to the 2022 Grand Slam Rule Book, if Djokovic is forced to pull out of the tournament before the order of play for Day 1 is announced, No. 5 seed Rublev would move into Djokovic’s spot in the bracket.

If Djokovic withdraws from the tournament after Monday’s schedule is released, he would be replaced in the field by what’s known as a “lucky loser” — a player who loses in the qualifying tournament but gets into the main draw because of another player’s exit before competition has started.

And if Djokovic plays in a match — or more — and then is told he can no longer participate in the tournament, his next opponent would simply advance to the following round and there would be no replacement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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