The Australian Open is more important than a single player and will be a great tournament “with or without” Novak Djokovic, according to Rafael Nadal.
The Spaniard has made it clear on a number of occasions that he disagrees with Djokovic’s resistance to Covid-19 vaccination and the degree to which his ongoing visa battle has overshadowed the tournament is clearly a frustration to many.
Speaking at his pre-tournament press conference, Nadal said: “It’s very clear that Novak Djokovic is one of the best players of the history, without a doubt. But there is no one player in history that’s more important than an event.
“Australian Open is much more important than any player. If he’s playing finally, OK. If he’s not playing, Australian Open will be a great Australian Open with or without him.”
Djokovic has appealed against the decision to cancel his visa for a second time and a court hearing will take place on Sunday, the day before he is due to play Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round.
Djokovic put out a statement earlier this week admitting he took part in an interview last month when he knew he had tested positive for the virus, and every new development in the saga has drawn huge attention.
Nadal said: “From my point of view, there is a lot of questions that need to be answered. In some ways I think it will be good if everything is clarified soon.
“Everyone chooses his road. I wish him all the best. I really respect him, even if I do not agree with a lot of things that he did the last couple of weeks.”
Stefanos Tsitsipas, who was highly critical of Djokovic in an interview earlier this week, shut down the topic on Saturday, saying: “A lot of people are obviously talking about it. That’s why I’m here to talk about tennis. Not enough tennis has been talked about in the last couple of weeks, which is a shame.”
Public opinion in Australia has not been on Djokovic’s side, and Alex De Minaur offered a home perspective, saying: “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.”
Alexander Zverev is usually one of Djokovic’s staunchest supporters on tour and he believes the world number one’s status has counted against him.
“I don’t know enough of the situation but I do think if it would not be Novak Djokovic, world number one, with 20 grand slams, all that, then it would not be as big of a drama,” he said.
“I understand the perspective from the Australian people and the government. The Australian Government and the Victorian Government should have been clear on what is going to happen beforehand. I think it’s not very fair for a person to come here and not be able to play.”
Zverev, Nadal and Tsitsipas will be among the favourites whether or not Djokovic plays along with last year’s runner-up and US Open champion Daniil Medvedev, who would be the top seed in the Serbian’s absence.
Nadal is playing his first tournament since early August because of a foot problem, and his preparations were further disrupted by a bout of Covid last month.
The 35-year-old, who takes on American Marcos Giron in round one, was laid low for several days but won his first tournament back at Melbourne Park last week.
He said: “I feel happy. If you tell me that I’m going to be in my position today one month ago, of course I will sign without a doubt after all the things that happened.
“I’m just enjoying the practices and to be back and feel myself again a professional tennis player. I’m playing some good tennis.”