By Richard Pagliaro | Saturday, January 15, 2022
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have created the most prolific rivalry in ATP history.
Asked to assess Djokovic’s ongoing legal battle to win reinstatement of his visa and play the Australian Open, Nadal offered nuanced perspective.
World No. 1 Djokovic is clearly one of the greatest players of all time, but no champion is bigger than the tournament, Nadal said.
The 2009 AO champion said with or without nine-time champion Djokovic in the draw this will “be a great Australian Open.”
“I tell you one thing, it’s very clear that Novak Djokovic is one of the best players of the history, without a doubt,” Nadal told the media in his pre Australian Open presser. “But there is no one player in history that’s more important than an event, no? The players stays and then goes, and other players are coming. No one, even Roger, Novak, myself, Bjorn Borg who was amazing at his times, tennis keep going.
“Australian Open is much more important than any player. “If he’s playing finally, okay. If he’s not playing, Australian Open will be great Australian Open with or without him. That’s my point of view.”
Though the pair share the men’s major record along with rival Roger Federer, 20-time major champions Nadal and Djokovic are at disparate ends of the spectrum on the Coronavirus and vaccination issue.
The 34-year-old Serbian, who has contracted Coronavirus twice including last month, is one of only three men in the ATP Top 100 who is not vaccinated and currently the only singles player in the AO field unvaccinated.
Djokovic has said he opposes tournaments mandating vaccinations. Nadal, who contracted Coronavirus last month after playing the Abu Dhabi exhibition, is fully vaccinated and says in his view vaccination is the only answer to eventually ending the pandemic.
“Tennis is just an entertainment sport for people, and for us is our job. In terms of importance in the world, is no important,” Nadal said. “Saying that, during two years we went through some challenging moments, no, because a lot of players haven’t been able to survive through the pandemic because the prize money went down.
“We have been traveling with not many people next to us, without the full team, without the family a lot of people, and a lot of people from countries outside of the Europe or America, North America, when the tournaments are the most — have been going through very challenging times.”
The two-time Olympic gold-medal champion says vaccination is the only remedy for the health of players, fans and the sport itself.
“Staying on bubbles, all this very challenging times at some point needs to finish because it’s very difficult to keep running a tour with tournaments losing money, with players going through mental problems for all of that,” Nadal said. “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.”
Despite deep division on this issue and others, including ATP leadership, Nadal said he respects his rival as a person and a player and points out they’ve successfully partnered many times in the past in charitable causes.
Nadal asserts ultimately, it’s up to Djokovic to clarify his views and define his legacy.
“In some ways it’s up to him because I have zero to do. I wish him all the very best,” Nadal said. “I had a good relationship with him I think during all our career. We did important things, as I said, for the tour, for our foundations, for charity.
“We have been together when something negative is happening here in Australia or around the world. But in this case there is lot of — from my point of view is lot of questions that need to be answered. In some ways I think will be good if everything clarifies soon, no? About his image? I mean, everyone choose his road.
“I respect himself as a person, of course, and as an athlete, without a doubt. I respect a lot, no? I wish him all the best. I really respect him, even if I am not agree with a lot of things that he did the last couple of weeks.”
Photo credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve