MELBOURNE, Australia (UKTN) — Rafael Nadal’s first Grand Slam match in more than seven months is on the horizon as he returns from a painful left foot problem that limited him to one tournament in the last half of last season and he got COVID -19 in December.
Lots to say, isn’t it? He is, after all, the owner of 20 major championships and one of the most important figures in tennis history. His mere presence at an Australian Open pre-tournament press conference on Saturday was newsworthy – or, rather, would have been just about any other occasion.
Ah, yes, the preparation for this Australian Open has been, and seems destined to continue to be, all about Novak Djokovic and his hopes of defending the title in a compulsory vaccination competition without being vaccinated against the coronavirus. So Nadal’s words and body language spoke for many in the tennis world as he shrugged, exhaled and uttered this about his longtime rival’s saga: “Honestly, I’m a little tired of the situation.
“The Australian Open is much more important than any player,” Nadal said. “If he plays, well, okay. If he doesn’t play, the Australian Open will be a great Australian Open, with or without him. That’s my view.”
Unlike Djokovic, Nadal succeeded in his shots. As well as a total of 97 of the top 100 in the ATP rankings and 96 of the top 100 in the WTA rankings.
“All of this could have been avoided, like we all did, by getting vaccinated, doing whatever we had to do to come here to Australia,” said two-time Major champion Garbiñe Muguruza, 28. Spain, seeded number 3 in women. “Everyone knew the rules very well. Just follow them and that’s it. I don’t think it’s that difficult.
For now, Djokovic, the No. 1 seed, is set to play Monday in the first day of the first major tournament of the year, where he and Nadal could win a 21st Grand Slam trophy to break the men’s mark that they currently share with Roger Federer.
Before that, however, Djokovic – and, it seems, anyone with the slightest interest in tennis or the latest developments related in some way to the pandemic – will be waiting to see what happens. will happen at a court hearing on Sunday on his appeal of a second revocation of his visa by the Australian government.
He could be expelled.
“I’m not going to lie: it’s been pretty much all over the media for the past few weeks. He received a lot of attention. A lot of people are obviously talking about it,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 23-year-old Greek, seeded No. 4 at Melbourne Park and runner-up to Djokovic at Roland Garros last year. “That’s why I’m here to talk about tennis. … We haven’t talked about tennis enough in the last few weeks, which is a shame.
Usually, the Australian Open – known as the “Happy Slam” – serves as something of a festive start to a new tennis season.
Players have the opportunity to rest, recharge and prepare during the offseason. They have a clean, or mostly clean slate, depending on whether they’ve played tune-up matches. Some show up with wrinkles in their style of play. Some come in with a new coach, eager to see how the relationship might work out.
“I feel like it takes away competitors who just want to start. We just can’t wait to get out there and compete. The Australian Open is always an amazing event, my home Slam, my favorite tournament,” said 22-year-old Australian No. 32 seed Alex de Minaur. “At the end of the day, tennis is an individual sport, and we’ve all been here in Australia for a while, preparing for this tournament. We all just want to fend for ourselves.
Stories and areas of intrigue tend to be plentiful in Melbourne. As it is, this time was destined to be a bit different, given the standout players who are out for one reason or another, including Federer, Serena Williams and Venus Williams.
But Nadal’s Slam return for the first time since a semi-final loss to Djokovic in Paris in June is a big deal.
The same goes for the arrival of defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka with what she says is a new prospect after taking two mental health hiatuses in 2021, including one that ended in its season in September.
Given Osaka’s candid revelations about depression and anxiety, it was significant on Saturday when she flashed a big smile. When she was joking with reporters. When she appeared as comfortable as possible.
Just like Nadal. He said he was thrilled to be back on tour. Practiced well. He spoke of his “positive attitude” and his “working spirit”.
It wasn’t until the subject was Djokovic that Nadal seemed less than excited.
“I wish him the best. I really respect him,” Nadal said of someone he played a tour record with 58 times dating back to 2006, “even though I (don’t) agree with a lot of things he’s done in the last two weeks.”
Pye reported from Melbourne; Fendrich reported from Washington.
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