MELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, January 6, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)
Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal had just wrapped up his first victory in the Melbourne Summer Set tournament at Melbourne Park Thursday afternoon when he sat down for his first press conference since arriving in Australia a week ago.
After defeating 104th-ranked Lithuanian qualifier Ricardas Berankis, 6-2, 7-5, in an hour and 32 minutes to reach the quarterfinals of the ATP 250 hard-court tune-up event for the Australian Open, which begins Jan. 17, the World No. 6 Nadal said he felt “sorry” that his rival and contemporary Novak Djokovic, whose visa to Australia was cancelled following an uproar over his COVID-19 vaccination status.
— Tennis Channel (@TennisChannel) January 6, 2022
While Nadal, who is vaccinated and recently recovered from the coronavirus before arriving in Australia, readies for the year’s first major Down Under, the 34-year-old Djokovic is being held at a hotel in Melbourne that is used to house undocumented immigrants while his lawyers prepare an appeal of his visa cancellation. The hearing, which began Thursday, is scheduled to resume on Monday.
During Nadal’s press conference, the Melbourne Summer Set’s No.1 seed said that the nine-time Australian Open champion Djokovic, who is in pursuit of a record-breaking 21st major singles title, knew the risks of trying to come to Australia without being vaccinated.
“It’s normal that the people here in Australia get very frustrated with the case because they have been going through a lot of very hard lockdowns,” Nadal said. He added that Djokovic “makes his own decision.”
Unlike Djokovic, who has been a skeptic of vaccines despite testing positive COVID-19, Nadal said that he believes “in what the people who know about medicine say, and if the people say we need to get vaccinated, we need to get the vaccine. If you do this, you don’t have any problem to play here.”
Nadal, who like Djokovic has previously tested positive for the coronavirus, added: “If you are vaccinated, you can play in the Australian Open and everywhere.”
Djokovic, who indicated in a social media post on Tuesday that he received a medical exemption to compete in this year’s Australian Open, flew from Dubai to Melbourne. Upon arrival late Wednesday evening, Djokovic was detained by border patrol officials at the airport amid what has been reported as a growing outrage over a decision by Tennis Australia to award him a visa and medical exemption from vaccination requirements that are required of all players competing in this year’s tournament.
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As it happens, Australia is dealing with a spike in COVID-19 infection cases, thanks to the omicron variant. Public opinion has not been kind and favorable for the Serbian athlete, who is tied with Nadal and Roger Federer, who is recovering from a knee injury and is not in Australia, each with 20 major titles.
“Rules are rules, and there are no special cases,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Thursday, confirming that Djokovic’s visa had been cancelled.
“Our government’s strong border protection policies, and particularly in relation to the pandemic, [have ensured] Australia has one of the lowest death rates of Covid anywhere in the world.”
Mr Djokovic’s visa has been cancelled. Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders. No one is above these rules. Our strong border policies have been critical to Australia having one of the lowest death rates in the world from COVID, we are continuing to be vigilant.
— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) January 5, 2022
Meanwhile, back to Nadal, who was asked by reporters to share his perspective on the Djokovic situation and whether he thinks it might impact public opinion on how people look at Australia and the Australian Open.
“Well, I don’t know. Of course, what’s happening is not good for no one in my opinion,” he said. “But I can’t have a clear opinion on everything because I don’t have all the details, honestly.
“Seems some rough situation, but at the end of the day the only thing I can say is we have been going through very challenging and a lot of families have been s uffering a lot during the last two years with all the pandemic.
“I mean, it’s normal that the people here in Australia get very frustrated with the case because they have been going through a lot of very hard lockdowns, and a lot of people were not able to come back home.”
Nadal added: “From my point of view, that’s the only thing I can say is I believe in what the people who knows about medicine says, and if the people says that we need to get vaccinated, we need to get the vaccine. That’s my point of view.
“I went through the COVID. I have been vaccinated twice. If you do this, you don’t have any problem to play here. That’s the only clear thing. … The only for me clear thing is if you are vaccinated, you can play in the Australian Open and everywhere, and the world in my opinion have been suffering enough to not follow the rules.”
Nadal was asked by a reporter if he would encourage Djokovic to get vaccinated. He replied: “I don’t encourage no one. I feel everyone have to do whatever, whatever feels that is good for him. But there are rules, and if you don’t want to get the vaccine, then you can have some troubles. That’s the thing.
“Of course, after a lot of people had been dying for two years, my feeling is with the vaccine is the only way to stop this pandemic. That’s what the people who understand about this says, and I am no one to create a different opinion.”
Same as it ever was 😊
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) January 6, 2022
Finally, Nadal was asked if he felt sorry for Djokovic’s situation and would like to see him play in Australia. Or, does he think he should have known better?
“I don’t have an opinion on that,” he said. “I think if he wanted, he would be playing here in Australia without a problem. He went through another – he made his own decisions, and everybody is free to take their own decision. But then, there are some consequences.
“Of course, I don’t like the situation that is happening. In some way, I feel sorry for him. But at the same time, he knew the conditions since a lot of months ago. So, he makes his own decision.”
• The ATP 250 Melbourne Summer Set men’s quarterfinals are set. On Friday, No. 1 seed Nadal will face No. 65 Tallon Griekspoor of Belgium and No. 88 Alex Molcan of Slovakia will oppose 95th-ranked Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland in the upper half of the draw. The lower half features No. 3 seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, ranked 28th, against No. 57 Botic van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands and No. 77 Jaume Munar of Spain against 112th-ranked qualifier Maxime Cressy of the United States.
• Molcan advanced with an upset of No. 4 seed David Goffin of Belgium, ranked 39th, 7-5, 6-3, while Cressy pulled off one of the biggest wins of his career Thursday evening by rallying to beat No. 2 seed Reilly Opelka, ranked 26th, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (9).
• After Nadal beat Berankis in his first match official ATP Tour match since injuring his foot at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. last August, he said: “Super happy to back in competition. It’s difficult to imagine a better place than here [at] the beginning of the season in Australia. It’s only the first match after a while. Honestly, I have been going through some difficult, challenging moments the past year-and-a-half, but in general terms I am super happy to back in competition.
“Of course, it’s important to start with a victory, [which] gives me the chance to play another time and that’s the main thing at this moment because I didn’t play for such a long time.”