Novak Djokovic must abide by rules to travel to Spain, PM says

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MELBOURNE: Rafael Nadal and Ashleigh Barty made devastating debuts to their Australian Open title campaigns on Monday as the Grand Slam attempted to move on from the Novak Djokovic visa saga.

Naomi Osaka kicked off the defense of her women’s crown with the win, but Coco Gauff was an early marquee victim. The 17-year-old American was knocked out in straight sets by Wang Qiang, who is ranked outside the top 100.

The only Australian Open champion in the men’s draw after nine-time winner Djokovic was expelled, Nadal began his quest to become the first man to win 21 Grand Slams by sweeping 66th-placed Marcos Giron 6- 1, 6-4, 6-2.

The draw has opened for the big Spaniard with defending champion Djokovic out of the picture and fellow ‘Big Three’ member Roger Federer not at Melbourne Park due to injury.

But Nadal, 35, said he was just relieved to be playing tennis after Djokovic’s refusal to get a COVID shot overshadowed the first Grand Slam of the year until the last moment.

Although Djokovic’s absence is good news for Nadal’s tilt in men’s tennis history, he said he would prefer the world No. 1 from Serbia to play.

“The ideal situation in the sports world is for the best players to be on the court,” said Nadal, who will face Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann in the second round.

He may not be here, but Djokovic is still hovering over the tournament.

Nadal was all shooting at Rod Laver Arena, showing no apparent ill effects from a foot injury he suffered last year and then being “very sick” with COVID in December.

“Today is a victory in the first Grand Slam. Happy for that. A month ago the situation was different – ​​she looks very ugly in a way,” he said. declared.

Among the other winners of the first-day men’s draw of the so-called ‘Happy Slam’, where crowds were capped at 50% due to the pandemic, was seventh seed Matteo Berrettini.

The Italian beat American Brandon Nakashima in four sets despite stomach problems.

Third-seeded Alexander Zverev also advanced in the night match, but 12th-seeded Briton Cameron Norrie lost in three sets to Sebastian Korda, the son of the 1998 Australian Open champion , Petr Korda.

There was to be no fairy tale race for ‘lucky loser’ Salvatore Caruso.

The Italian had earned a place in the main draw when Djokovic was sent off but fell at the first hurdle.

In the women’s draw, world No. 1 seed Barty made a real statement of intent, crushing qualifier Lesia Tsurenko in 54 minutes, 6-0, 6-1.

The 25-year-old will next face Italy’s Lucia Bronzetti as the pre-tournament favorite and home prospect aim for a maiden Australian Open title.

“There’s always something special to play on a Monday night at the Australian Open,” said Barty, who will face high expectations from home fans.

Japan’s former world No. 1 Osaka, the defending champion, was also largely calm with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Colombia’s Camila Osorio.

Seeded 13 after a troubled 2021 in which she said she suffered “long bouts of depression,” Osaka came through in 68 minutes.

“I would say I feel more comfortable in my skin, if that makes sense,” said the 24-year-old, who won the title at Melbourne Park in 2019 and 2021. She will next face the American Madison Brengle.

French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova, Greek fifth seed Maria Sakkari and reigning Olympic champion Belinda Bencic have also qualified.

But Tunisia’s ninth seed Ons Jabeur was heartbroken, who didn’t even make it to the pitch and pulled out due to injury before his game.

18th-seeded wonderkid Gauff was also eliminated, surprisingly losing 6-4, 6-2 to China’s Wang.

“I think everything disappointed me today,” Gauff said.

“I feel like in pre-season I worked really hard and I felt like I was ready to have a good run here.

“Today I just didn’t perform well.”

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