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Novak Djokovic included in Australian Open draw as Emma Raducanu faces Sloane Stephens in first round

Novak Djokovic included in Australian Open draw as he awaits visa decision; Andy Murray to face Nikoloz Basilashvili, Emma Radacanu will meet American Sloane Stephens in opening round; Stefanos Tsitsipas says Djokovic 'playing by his own rules'

Novak Djokovic awaits to find out if he will be able to stay in Australia
Image: Novak Djokovic awaits to find out if he will be able to stay in Australia

Novak Djokovic drew unseeded Serb Miomir Kecmanovic in the opening round of the Australian Open on Thursday as he awaits a decision over whether or not he will be allowed to remain in the country. 

The top seed, who is seeking a 21st Grand Slam title and fourth successive Australian Open crown, saw his visa refused upon his arrival in Melbourne last week due to questions over his COVID-19 vaccination exemption.

Djokovic won a subsequent court appeal against the cancellation, however, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke is personally empowered to revoke his visa for a second time and is still mulling over a decision.

Tennis Australia delayed the draw for an hour-and-15 minutes for an unknown reason.

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Novak Djokovic has been training in Melbourne as he awaits a decision on whether he will be allowed to remain in Australia

British women's No 1 and reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu will meet American world number 68 Sloane Stephens after her final match in preparation for the tournament ended in a 6-0 6-1 defeat to Elena Rybakina at the Sydney Classic.

Former world No 1 Andy Murray, who enters as a wild card, takes on 21st seed Nikoloz Basilashvili, having beaten the Georgian 6-7 (4-7) 7-6 (7-3) 6-3 over three hours to reach the Sydney quarter-finals on Wednesday.

Heather Watson was drawn against Egypt's Mayar Sherif, while British men's No 1 Cameron Norrie faces American Sebastian Korda and Dan Evans begins his campaign against David Goffin of Belgium.

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Barry Cowan says Emma Raducanu is still learning her game and expectations ahead of the Australian Open are high

Britain's Harriet Dart is into the final round of qualifying for the tournament, needing a win over Australian Kimberly Birrell on Thursday night to secure her place in the main draw.

Standing between Liam Broady and a place in the main tournament is Roman Safiullin after the British No 4 beat JJ Wolf on Wednesday night to book his place in the final round of qualifying.

World No 1 Ash Barty and fellow Australian Nick Kyrgios begin their home tournament up against qualifiers and defending champion Naomi Osaka opens her defence versus Colombia's Camila Osorio.

Notable ties

Australian Open singles: Top 10 men's and women's seeds

Men's top 10 seeds Women's top 10 seeds
(1) Novak Djokovic vs Miomir Kecmanovic (1) Ash Barty vs qualifier
(2) Daniil Medvedev vs Henri Laaksonen (2) Aryna Sabalenka vs Storm Sanders
(3) Alexander Zverev vs Daniel Altmaier (3) Garbine Muguruza vs Clara Burel
(4) Stefanos Tsitsipas vs Mikael Ymer (4) Barbora Krejčíková vs Andre Petkovic
(5) Andrey Rublev vs Gianluca Mager (5) Maria Sakkari vs Tatjana Maria
(6) Rafael Nada vs Marcos Giron (6) Anett Kontaveit vs Katerina Siniaková
(7) Matteo Berrettini vs Brandon Nakashima (7) Iga Swiatek vs qualifier
(8) Casper Ruud vs Alex Molcan (8) Paula Badosa vs Ajla Tomljanović
(9) Felix Auger-Aliassime vs Emil Ruusuvuori (9) Ons Jabeur vs Nuria Parrizas Diaz
(10) Hubert Hurkacz vs Egor Gerasimov (10) Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs Anna Bondar

Spanish sixth seed Rafael Nadal was paired with unseeded American Marcos Giron, while US Open champion and 2021's beaten Australian Open finalist Daniil Medvedev is matched up against Henri Laaksonen.

Last year's Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini continues his pursuit of a maiden Grand Slam title with a first-round clash against talented 20-year-old American Brandon Nakashima, and third seed Alexander Zverev, who reached two semi-finals and a quarter-final across the four Slams last year, plays Germany's Daniel Altmaier.

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Novak Djokovic has admitted to making an 'error of judgement' by attending an interview and photoshoot with a French newspaper after testing positive for Covid-19 last month

Fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas takes on Mikael Ymer of Sweden, and fifth seed Andrey Rublev tussles with Italian Gianluca Mager.

Elsewhere in the women's draw No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka plays Australian wildcard Strom Sanders in the first round, while third seed Garbine Muguruza, a finalist in 2020, meets Clara Burel of France.

Fourth-seeded French Open champion Barbora Krejčíková negotiates a first-round contest with Andre Petkovic, while her Roland Garros predecessor Iga Świątek, the seventh seed, faces a qualifier.

Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez, beaten by Raducanu in the US Open final, looks to continue her rise against Maddison Inglis of Australia, American teenager Coco Gauff faces Wang Qiang and two-time Australian Open champiom Victoria Azarenka competes against Panna Udvardy of Hungary.

Crowds capped at 50 per cent

Tournament organisers stated on Thursday crowds as the main stadiums will be capped at 50 per cent capacity under updated COVID-19 restrictions.

Tennis Australia confirmed the cap applies for ticket sales at the Rod Laver Arena centre court and the second show court Margaret Court Arena.

"There are no changes to ground pass access and we still expect to see strong crowds," TA executive Ben Slack said in a statement. "We are confident in the 'COVIDSafe' measures we have in place."

The Victorian government also announced face masks will be mandatory for all patrons "except when eating and drinking" and the event will align with the state's COVID-safe settings, including a density limit of one person to two square metres for indoor hospitality.

Victoria reported 37,169 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 25 deaths.

Djokovic 'playing by his own rules', says Tsitsipas

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Stefanos Tsitsipas has suggested that some people have not been following coronavirus protocols, making those who have been 'look like fools'

Djokovic has been "playing by his own rules" and has put his bid for a 21st Grand Slam title at risk by not following Australia's COVID-19 vaccination requirements, world number four Stefanos Tsitsipas has said.

"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 on Thursday.

"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. American world number 93 Tennys Sandgren told reporters earlier this month that he had pulled out of the Australian Open due to the vaccine mandate and he opted not to apply for a medical exemption.

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."

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