MELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, January 16, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)
As Rafael Nadal seeks a second Australian Open men’s title and a record 21st major, he has become a voice of reason for tennis during a fortnight in which one of its greatest stars, Novak Djokovic, has overshadowed the sport.
On Saturday, when the World No. 6 Nadal sat down to speak with the international media whom are covering this year’s Australian Open, both in person in Melbourne as well as virtually around the globe, he spoke not only about his own mental and physical health but also wasn’t afraid to speak out about Djokovic, his contemporary – part of the Big Three of men’s tennis along with injured Roger Federer, who isn’t competing in the year’s first major.
Christopher Clarey, tennis correspondent for The New York Times and the dean of tennis writers, who has covered more than 100 Grand Slam events, asked Nadal what lessons could be learned from l’affaire Novak Djokovic. Nadal’s response was frank and upfront.
“I don’t know. I think the situation have been too far. Honestly, I’m little bit tired of the situation because I just believe that it’s important to talk about our sport, about tennis,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone of voice.
“We went through and we are going through very challenging times worldwide, without a doubt, with this pandemic. I mean, I know tennis is zero important comparing from 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, in no important. …
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 15, 2022
“I tell you one thing,” Nadal added. “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 the event, no? The player stays and then goes, and other players are coming.
“Even Roger, Novak, myself, Bjorn Borg, who was amazing at his times, tennis keeps going. Australian Open is more important than any player. If he’s playing finally, OK. If he’s not playing, the Australian Open will be a great Australian Open.”
Nadal went on to say about Djokovic: “I respect him as a person, and as an athlete, without a doubt I respect a lot. I wish him all the best and I really respect him even if I don’t agree with a lot of things he did in the last few weeks.”
Nadal, who returned to the ATP Tour earlier this month after taking an extended break to deal with chronic foot problems and won a title at the Melbourne Summer Set event in Melbourne, played just 29 matches last year. He hasn’t played in a major since losing in the 2021 French Open semifinals in an epic five-set match against Djokovic. Recently, Nadal tested positive for COVID-19 after playing in an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi last month. Now, the 35-year-old Spaniard from Mallorca seems ready to go, both in good health and good spirits.
Seeded sixth, the five-time finalist Nadal will begin his quest for a second Australian Open crown on Monday. He’s in the upper half of the draw and anchored at the bottom of No. 3 seed Alexander Zverev’s quarter and is set to face No. 66 Marcos Giron of the United States in the first round.
Who wants an invite to this practice session? 🤩🖐
— ATP Tour (@atptour) January 11, 2022
From there, Nadal could face Australian wild card Thanasi Kokkinakis, who on Saturday won the Adelaide International 2, followed by World No. 30 Karen Khachanov of Russia. Then, it gets even tougher for Nadal as possible fourth-round opponents include 2021 Australian Open semifinalist Aslan Karatsev, who is currently ranked 20th and won the Sydney Tennis Classic Saturday, or World No. 10 Hubert Hurkacz of Poland. A possible quarterfinal showdown with either World No. 3 Zverev or World No. 14 Denis Shapovalov, who earlier this month was an important cog for Team Canada in winning the ATP Cup, looms. Finally, with defending champion Djokovic removed from the draw, perhaps World No. 7 Matteo Berrettini in the semifinals.
“I want to give my best. I want to give myself a chance to keep enjoying this beautiful sport, to keep fighting for the things that I have been fighting for for the last 16 years,” Nadal said.
“Sometimes, it’s difficult when. You’re going through a lot of physical issues. It’s been a very challenging time for me. The last year and a half with my foot, I have been suffering a lot. I think I hold a positive attitude and the working spirit all the time. That’s probably why I’m here today.”
Chris Evert: Opening up about her Stage 1C ovarian cancer diagnosis
On Friday, Hall of Fame great Chris Evert, who is now an ESPN tennis analyst, revealed with the help of ESPN tennis presenter Chris McKendry, her story about her stage 1C ovarian cancer diagnosis.
Tennis great Chris Evert shares ovarian cancer diagnosis ‘as a way to help others’ https://t.co/5Z1Z3lswFl
— Post Sports (@PostSports) January 15, 2022
Netflix planning documentary series about professional tennis
On Friday, streaming service Netflix announced plans for a documentary series about Grand Slam tournaments and the men’s and women’s pro tours. Netflix said it would team with the same London-based production company that made “Formula 1: Drive to Survive,” which arguably has boosted the popularity of the international auto racing circuit.
Filming for the tennis series has already begun at the Australian Open, the year’s first major championship tournament, which begins Monday in Melbourne amid the backdrop of all of the news surrounding World No. 1 Novak Djokovic’s visa cancellation and possible deportation.
Filming in Progress! 🎬@Steftsitsipas confirmed his role on Netflix’s recently greenlit tennis docuseries. The Greek player has already started filming Down Under.
— TENNIS (@Tennis) January 15, 2022
Naomi Osaka and Williams sisters among Top 10 highest-paid female athletes
Forbes is out with its annual list of the Top 10 Highest-Paid Female Athletes for 2021. A total of five WTA stars landed on the list, topped by four-time major champion Naomi Osaka. The list also includes Serena and Venus Williams (2nd and 3rd), Garbiñe Muguruza (5th) and Ashleigh Barty (8th).
The 24-year-old Osaka from Japan, an international superstar, enjoyed total earnings of $57.3 million, of which only $2.3 was earned on the tennis court. Of the court, she is a brand ambassador for companies such as Louis Vuitton, Sweetgreen and TAG Hemer. She’s collaborated with a variety of other sponsors and also released a much-discussed Netflix documentary and launched her own skincare line, Kinlo.
Five @WTA standouts landed amongst the Top 10 of Forbes’ annual Highest-Paid Female Athletes list:@naomiosaka, @serenawilliams, @Venuseswilliams, @GarbiMuguruza and @ashbarty: https://t.co/klnG3Aa3dx pic.twitter.com/Mwf2NOijvL
— TENNIS (@Tennis) January 14, 2022
Hubert Hurkacz: Donating a keepsake for a good cause
I want to donate my racket to @fundacjawosp This year the money raised during the event will support the diagnosis and treatment of eyesight in children. It is a very special racket for me as I won the Wimbledon quarterfinal vs. Roger Federer with it🎾https://t.co/0glWfyNUK0
— Hubert Hurkacz (@HubertHurkacz) January 13, 2022
Felix Auger-Aliassime: Fun looks coming from Adidas Tennis
— Félix AugerAliassime (@felixtennis) January 15, 2022
On Dylan Alcott: Worth a good read
Amid all the stormy chaos swirling around tennis in Australia right now, it was a needed ray of sunshine to get to catch up with Dylan Alcott (@DylanAlcott), the face of this #AusOpen, on the eve of his final tournament.
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) January 15, 2022
Practice makes perfect: Around Melbourne Park
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 15, 2022
“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.”
– Alex de Minaur of Australia, the top-ranked Aussie in the men’s singles draw, commenting about Novak Djokovic’s visa cancelation during Saturday’s media day.
“Either send him out early, or let him play. Now I feel it’s getting a bit embarrassing. I feel it’s not fair on him now. Preparing for a grand slam is hard enough.”
– Nick Kyrgios of Australia, as told to The Age, a Melbourne newspaper.