Rafa Nadal has insisted the Australian Open will be a great success – with or without Novak Djokovic. The world No.1 must win a final appeal by the Federal Court of Australia on Sunday to get the chance to win a male record 21st Grand Slam.
But the Spaniard is also seeking to break the tie that he shares with Djokovic and the absent Roger Federer.
Nadal returned to action for the first time since August at the Melbourne Summer Set last week and won his 89th ATP Tour title.
And asked about the Djokovic affair, the 2009 Australian Open winner said: “I tell you one thing, it’s very clear that Novak Djokovic is one of the best players in history, without a doubt.
“But there is no one player in history that’s more important than an event, no? Players come and then go, and other players are coming. No one, even Roger, Novak, myself, Bjorn Borg who was amazing at his times, tennis will keep going.
“The Australian Open is much more important than any player. If he’s playing finally, okay. If he’s not playing, the Australian Open will be a great Australian Open with or without him. That’s my point of view.”
Nadal, who suffered Covid before Christmas, added: “Honestly I’m a little bit tired of the situation because I just believe that it’s important to talk about our sport, about tennis.
“We went through and are going through very challenging times worldwide, without a doubt, with this pandemic. I mean, I know that tennis is of zero importance compared to what we are facing now, this virus, no? Tennis is just an entertainment sport for people, and for us is our job. In terms of importance in the world, it is not important.
“If there is any solution, and the solution is the vaccine, that’s it. We need to be vaccinated and the situation needs to be better for the well-being of everyone and for the health of our sport.
But I repeat: we are here to talk about tennis. As I repeat: it’s not important comparing what’s happening in the world, that after a lot of millions are suffering. Talking about our sport, that is the thing, is the way to proceed.
Aussie No.1 Alex de Minaur said: “I think first of all, this whole situation has taken a lot of spotlight away from us competitors. We’re here to play the Australian Open. We’re here on our own terms ready to compete, hopefully have a very good couple weeks.
“It feels like it’s taking away from us competitors who just want to start. We’re just eager to go out and compete. The Australian Open is always an incredible event, my home slam, my favorite tournament.
“To be honest, I’m just ready to put all of this behind me and focus on playing my tennis matches, kind of let my tennis do the talking.
“At the end of the day tennis is an individual sport and we’ve all been here in Australia for a while getting ready for this tournament. We all just want to get on with our own stuff. That’s basically it.”
Asked if Djokovic was at fault over attempting to get in Australia without a vaccine, the world No.34 added: “Look, Australians have gone through a lot. There’s no secret about that. They’ve had it very tough. They’ve done a lot of work to protect themselves and their borders.
“When you’re coming in, as well as every other tennis player, if you wanted to come into the country, you had to be double vaccinated. It was up to him, his choices, his judgment. Here we are.”