Rafael Nadal took a swipe at rival Novak Djokovic on Saturday as the world number one battles deportation from Australia, saying: “The Australian Open is far more important than any player.”
Ahead of the start of the first Grand Slam on Monday, Nadal told reporters in Melbourne Park: “Australian Open is going to be a great Australian Open, with or without him.”
READ: Djokovic entangles sponsors in Australian Open vaccine commotion
Djokovic is still in the draw to defend his title but is in danger of being expelled from the country before then after the Australian government revoked his visa for a second time, calling him a threat to public order.
The long-running saga over whether the unvaccinated Serb can stay in the country has overshadowed the first Grand Slam of the year, where Djokovic and Nadal would both try to become the first man to win 21 majors.
Nadal said he respected Djokovic “as a person of course and as an athlete, no doubt”.
But the Spaniard added: “I really respect him, even if I don’t agree with many of the things he has done in recent weeks.”
And he said the controversy had gone on too long.
“I think the situation has gone too far. Frankly, I’m a bit tired of the situation because I just believe it’s important to talk about our sport, about tennis,” said Nadal.
However, third seed Alexander Zverev said the Serb was treated unfairly and may have been used as a political pawn by Australian authorities.
“I don’t think he would have come here by luck alone without thinking he could play, with the proper clearance to be in the country,” said the German.
Fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas said the situation had taken the spotlight away from tennis.
“I won’t lie. It’s been on just about every news item for the past few weeks,” said the Greek in Melbourne Park, two days before the tournament starts on Monday.
“There hasn’t been enough talk about tennis in recent weeks, which is a shame.” said Tsitsipas
Australian Open women’s champion Naomi Osaka empathized with Djokovic’s predicament: “I think it’s an unfortunate situation. He’s such a great player and it’s a little sad that some people can remember it this way,” said the Japanese 13th seed.
“I know what it’s like to be in his situation in a place where you’re asked about that person, just to see comments from other players, it’s not the best. I’m just trying to keep it positive.” she said.
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