Djokovic's absence helps his fellow Serb at Australian Open

Anadolu Agency / Getty

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Novak Djokovic’s absence from the Australian Open has created opportunities for a fellow Serb, Miomir Kecmanovic.

Having avoided what would have been a formidable first-round round assignment against the nine-time champion, the 22-year-old Kecmanovic has put together three straight wins to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time.

The Belgrade native's confidence soared after beating Salvatore Caruso — the so-called lucky loser from qualifying who was elevated to the main draw after Djokovic’s deportation — then Tommy Paul and 25th-seeded Lorenzo Sonego to earn a shot at No. 17-seeded Gael Monfils.

“It’s unbelievable,” Kecmanovic said Friday. “A week ago I was supposed to play the world No. 1 and didn’t have much of a chance there, but now I’m in the last 16.

"So I’m happy that I was able to use this chance and that I’ve been playing some really good tennis.”

He won only a handful of games when he played Djokovic in the Serbia Open last year and wasn't expecting a lot more when the Australian Open draw was made last week.

Djokovic was deported on the eve of the tournament for not meeting Australia's strict COVID-19 vaccination requirements, giving Kecmanovic an opener against a player ranked in the 140s instead of No. 1.

“I didn’t have much pressure just because I felt that I got a second chance, so I just wanted to use it the best that I can," he said. "I’ve obviously been showing that well up until now.”

Kecmanovic had never previously ventured past the second round at a Grand Slam event, so now he's guaranteed his biggest payday with at least 328,000 Australian dollars ($240,000) in prize money so far.

Kecmanovic needed nearly 3 1/2 hours to see off Sonego 6-4, 6-7 (8), 6-2, 7-5, the 35-year-old Monfils needed just two hours No. 16 Cristian Garin 7-6 (4), 6-1, 6-3.

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Djokovic's absence helps his fellow Serb at Australian Open
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