Novak Djokovic has learned his fate at the Australian Open in what will be his first time competing at the season-opening Grand Slam since he was deported from the country on the eve of the tournament last year. The nine-time champion avoids most of his biggest rivals in his half of the draw, meaning his biggest opponent next week could be the hamstring issue that has caused problems for him in practice.
Djokovic has learned who his first opponent will be in his return to the Australian Open following last year’s 11-day saga that ultimately ended in him getting deported. The 35-year-old will finally get his chance to fight for a record 10th title in Melbourne Park and will open his campaign against Roberto Carballes Baena.
The pair have faced off once before – also in the first round of a Major – with Djokovic getting an easy 6-4 6-1 6-4 win over the world No 75. And Djokovic will face either a qualifier or world No 132 Hugo Dellien in the following round.
Seeded fourth in Australia, the Serb has managed to avoid some of his biggest rivals and toughest opponents in Rafael Nadal, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Felix Auger-Aliassime who are all in the stacked top half of the draw. It leaves Casper Ruud and Taylor Fritz as the highest-ranked opponents in Djokovic’s side of the draw, making them his potential semi-final opponents if they get to the last four.
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With Djokovic appearing to have a more favourable draw on paper with no chance of meeting the likes of Nadal and Medvedev until the final, his toughest obstacle in the earlier rounds could prove to be his hamstring. He tweaked the muscle in Adelaide last week but it raised fresh injury concerns when the 21-time Grand Slam winner received treatment three times during a practice session at the Australian Open on Wednesday.
The world No 5 was playing a practice match with Medvedev and led by a break at 3-2 when he called the physio to court. It was treated in three successive changeovers before Djokovic decided to abandon the match after losing the opener 6-4, stopping after just 36 minutes of the 75-minute practice and being replaced by another sparring partner for the world No 8.
“It’s the hamstring that I had problems with in Adelaide last week against Medvedev when we played semi-finals. And I played with him again today in a practice match,” he told 9 News later on Wednesday. “I just felt it pulling a bit and I didn’t want to risk anything worse so I played a set and then apologised to him, he was understanding, so I just want to avoid any bigger scares before the Australian Open.”
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Novak Djokovic’s projected Australian Open draw by seeding
First round: Roberto Carballes Baena
Second round: Hugo Dellien
Third round:  Grigor Dimitrov
Fourth round:  Alex de Minaur /  Pablo Carreno Busta
Quarter-final:  Andrey Rublev /  Holger Rune /  Nick Kyrgios
Semi-final:  Casper Ruud /  Taylor Fritz
Final:  Rafael Nadal /  Stefanos Tsitsipas /  Daniil Medvedev