Sports Australian Open focus begins shift to on-court action following Novak Djokovic saga

Sports Australian Open focus begins shift to on-court action following Novak Djokovic saga

Sports

The Australian Open has begun at Melbourne Park amid the aftermath of Novak Djokovic’s deportation.

Key points:

  • The Australian Open got underway less than 24 hours after Djokovic was deported
  • Maria Sakkari was among the seeds to win early on day one
  • Crowds are capped at 50 per cent capacity during the Australian Open

Djokovic left Australia on Sunday night, only hours after the Federal Court ruled to uphold the government’s decision to cancel his visa.

The men’s world number one had been scheduled to play this evening in his first-round match against fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanović on Rod Laver Arena.

His place in the men’s draw has been taken by Italian “lucky loser” Salvatore Caruso.

Several high-profile players — including Rafael Nadal and Stefanos Tsitsipas — had lamented the fact the build-up to the Australian Open had been engulfed by the Djokovic saga, which had dominated media attention since his arrival in Melbourne earlier in the month.

Djokovic’s deportation will continue to attract coverage, but the players will be relieved the focus of the tennis world is starting to shift to the on-court action in Melbourne, with several seeds beginning their campaigns today.

Women’s fifth seed Maria Sakkari kicked off proceedings on Rod Laver Arena, with a 6-4,  7-6 (7-2) win over Germany’s Tatjana Maria.

Greece’s Sakkari was tested in the first set, having dropped serve against the world number 287.

But two service breaks helped her secure the set and despite being forced to a tiebreak in the second, Sakkari earned safe passage through to the second round.

In other results in the women’s draw, Ukrainian 15th seed Elina Svitolina defeated France’s Fiona Ferro 6-1, 7-6 (7-4), while the 22nd-seeded Belinda Bencic of Switzerland — the Tokyo Olympic gold medallist — triumphed 6-4, 6-3 over Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic.

In the men’s draw, Spanish 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz comfortably progressed to the second round with a straight-sets win over qualifier Alejandro Tabilo.

The 31st-seeded Alcaraz — a US Open quarter-finalist last year — defeated his Chilean opponent 6-2, 6-2, 6-3.

Players are contesting matches in front of fewer spectators than the numbers that attended the Australian Open prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Victorian government announced last week crowd capacity would be capped at 50 per cent during the next fortnight in line with the state’s COVID-19 protocols.

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