Djokovic replacement thrashed after fellow Serb vows to dedicate victory to icon
Italy’s Salvatore Caruso was handed a straight-sets drubbing in the Australian Open first round after stepping in for the deported Novak Djokovic, as opponent Miomir Kecmanovic pledged to dedicate victory to his countryman.
Caruso was handed a ‘lucky loser’ spot in the main draw in Melbourne after Djokovic lost his last-ditch legal appeal against the cancelation of his visa on Sunday.
The unseeded Italian was pitted against Serbian world number 77 Kecmanovic, who had already made clear his dissatisfaction with the treatment dished out to Djokovic, calling his absence “a huge loss” for tennis.
On Monday, Kecmanovic took advantage of his meeting with a much less decorated opponent, sweeping past Caruso 6-4 6-2 6-1 at Melbourne Park’s 1573 Arena, although the Italian will still pick up $36,000 in prize money.
Serbian star Kecmanovic, 22, will now meet Tommy Paul in the second round after the American eased past Kazakh qualifier Mikhail Kukushkin in straight sets in their meeting.
Prior to his match on Monday, Kecmanovic had reportedly vowed to dedicate any victory to the deported Djokovic.
“Everything that happened to Novak in the last few days certainly affected all of us from Serbia,” Kecmanovic said.
“It is clear that I am disappointed with the decision of the authorities in Australia. I think that tennis lost a lot with this event in Australia, because not having the best tennis player in the world is a loss for the sport, the spectators, all of us.
“Regardless of the fact that Novak is the best player in the world, the nine-time champion in Melbourne and that the draw was not in my favor… I eagerly anticipated facing him at the Australian Open. Unfortunately, that wish did not come true and it took away my joy.”
While Kecmanovic was in action, nine-time Australian Open champion Djokovic was en route back to Serbia.
The world number one was seen posing for photos with fans during transit in Dubai, and was due to touch down in Belgrade shortly after midday local time.
Djokovic is set for a much warmer welcome in his homeland than the one afforded him in Australia.
A prominent Belgrade skyscraper was illuminated with a message of support for Djokovic on Sunday, while fans were expected to gather at the airport to greet the 20-time Grand Slam champion.
Speaking after the decision to deport Djokovic was confirmed, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said the tennis hero should return to the embrace of his country.
“We can’t wait to see him in Serbia, to return to his country, to come where he is always welcome,” Vucic said.
“They think they humiliated Djokovic with this, the best player in the world, by the ten-day harassment, they humiliated themselves and Djokovic can return to his country with his head high up and look everyone in the eye.”