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Fresh Djokovic blow opens door for Australian Open rivals

MELBOURNE (AFP) – Novak Djokovic’s Australian Open hopes are not quite dead yet but the renewed uncertainty and disruption engulfing the defending champion opens the door for rivals including Rafael Nadal.

The world number one from Serbia, who would be chasing a record 21st Grand Slam when the showpiece begins next week, had his visa cancelled for a second time yesterday in the latest twist to the saga.

The Australian government will now attempt to deport him, but Djokovic looks set to fight it and he remains top seed and in the draw at Melbourne Park, for now.

The 34-year-old flew in last week claiming a vaccine exemption because of a positive Covid test in mid-December, but border officials rejected it, his visa was revoked and he was moved to a detention centre.

Djokovic’s legal team overturned that in court, freeing the top seed to begin his preparations for a tournament in which he has not lost a match since 2018. The Australian government however hit back anew yesterday.

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic. PHOTO: AP

“Despite all that has happened, I want to stay and try to compete,” he tweeted before the latest setback, adding that he “remained focussed” on winning his favourite Slam despite his unprecedented build-up.

If Djokovic, who is drawn against fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round, does play and goes on to win the Australian Open he would become the most successful men’s tennis player in history with 21 majors.

Given his preparations, it would be the most remarkable of the lot.

His ninth victory in 17 visits at last year’s COVID-delayed Australian Open reinforced his dominance in Melbourne, where he claimed his first Grand Slam title in 2008.

With Roger Federer injured and absent, Nadal and world number two Daniil Medvedev look to be two of the main beneficiaries if Djokovic does not play, or does play and is woefully ill-prepared.

Ageing Spanish great Nadal – one of the ‘Big Three’ alongside Djokovic and Federer – is also chasing a record 21st major.

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