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At happy Slam, players unamused by Djoker’s antics


Rafael Nadal‘s first Grand Slam match in more than seven months is on the horizon, he is coming back from a painful left foot problem that limited him to one tournament over the last half of last season and he contracted Covid-19 in December.

Plenty to talk about, right? This is, after all, the owner of 20 major championships and one of the most significant figures in the history of tennis. His mere presence at an Australian Open pre-tournament news conference Saturday was newsworthy – or rather, would have been, on pretty much any other occasion.

Ah, Yes, the run-up to this Australian Open has been, and seems destined to continue to be, all about Novak Djokovic and his hopes of defending the title at a vaccination-required competition while not being vaccinated. So Nadal’s words and body language spoke for many in the world of tennis when he shrugged his shoulders, exhaled and uttered this about his long-time rival’s will-he-play-or-won’t-he saga: “Honestly, I’m a little bit tired of the situation.”

“The Australian Open is much more important than any player,” Nadal said. “If he’s playing, finally, OK. If he’s not playing, the Australian Open will be a great Australian Open, with or without him. That’s my point of view.”

Unlike Djokovic, Nadal has gotten his shots.

“All this could have been avoided, like we’ve all done, by getting vaccinated, doing all the things we had to do to come here to Australia,” said two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza, a 28-year-old from Spain who is seeded No. 3 in the women’s bracket. “Everybody knew very clearly the rules. You just have to follow them and that’s it. I don’t think it’s that difficult.”

“I won’t lie: It has been pretty much on every news outlet the last couple of weeks. It has received a lot of attention. A lot of people are obviously talking about it,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 23-year-old from Greece who is seeded No. 4 at Melbourne Park. “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.”

Usually, the Australian Open – known as the Happy Slam – serves as a sort of celebratory launch of a new tennis season.

Nadal’s return to Slam action for the first time since a semifinal loss to Djokovic in Paris in June is a big deal. So, too, is defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka’s arrival with what she says is a fresh outlook after taking two mental health breaks in 2021, including one that ended her season in September.



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