Absence of Djokovic to echo at Melbourne Park

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Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic practices at Melbourne Park as questions remain over the legal battle regarding his visa to play in the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia, January 13, 2022. REUTERS/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake

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MELBOURNE, Jan 16 (Reuters) - The absence of Novak Djokovic will be keenly felt at Melbourne Park on Monday as a 150th-ranked 'lucky loser' steps into the place of a 20-times Grand Slam champion when the first round of the Australian Open gets underway.

Djokovic had been scheduled to play fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic in the late match at Rod Laver Arena but the nine-times champion will be nowhere near the centre court after losing his bid to overturn a second visa cancellation. L1N2TV0D6

Seeing Djokovic play after a dramatic week of court challenges and fan protests would have been appointment viewing around the world, not least to see the reception of the crowd in a country where his refusal to vaccinate for COVID-19 has triggered outrage.

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Instead, Italian journeyman Salvatore Caruso, who has never won an ATP title and bowed out during qualifying, replaces Djokovic in the draw as the 'lucky loser' and will play Kecmanovic at one of the lesser showcourts.

The late Rod Laver Arena slot has now been taken by third seed and Olympic champion Alexander Zverev, who will meet fellow German Daniel Altmaier, after the order of play was rejigged on Sunday following Djokovic's court defeat.

Home hero and women's top seed Ash Barty will take top billing when she opens her campaign for a first Australian Open title against Ukraine qualifier Lesia Tsurenko in the first evening match at Rod Laver Arena.

Women's defending champion Naomi Osaka will play unseeded Colombian Camila Osorio in the second match of the day session at Rod Laver Arena, before men's sixth seed Rafa Nadal takes to the court against American Marcos Giron.

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Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford

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