MELBURN, Australia – Rafael Nadal’s first Grand Slam match in more than seven months is on the horizon. He is returning from a painful left foot problem that limited him to a tour during the last half of last season and he became infected with COVID-19 in December.
There is a lot to talk about, right? After all, this is the owner of 20 major championships and one of the most significant figures in the history of tennis. His mere presence at a press conference before the Australian Open tour on Saturday was newsworthy – or, better yet, it would have been on almost every other occasion.
The preparation of this Australian Open has been and seems destined to continue to be, all about Novak Djokovic and his hopes of defending the title in a competition required by vaccination, while not being vaccinated against the coronavirus. So Nadal’s words and body language spoke to many people in the tennis world when he shrugged, exhaled, and said this about his longtime rival saga-will-play-or-will-not: “Honestly, I “I’m a little tired of the situation.”
“The Australian Open is much more important than any player,” said Nadal. “If he’s playing, finally, okay. If he’s not playing, the Australian Open will be a great Australian Open, with or without him. That’s my point.”
Unlike Djokovic, Nadal has taken his punches. Like a total of 97 from the Top 100 in the ATP rankings and 96 from the Top 100 in the WTA rankings.
“All of this could have been avoided, as we have all done, by getting vaccinated, doing all the things we had to do to get here in Australia,” said two-time grand champion Garbine Muguruza, a 28-year-old nga. Spain which is ranked number 3 in the women group. “Everyone knew the rules very clearly. You just have to follow them and that’s it. I don’t think it’s that hard.”
For now, No. 1 Djokovic is scheduled to play Monday on day 1 of the first major tournament of the year, where he and Nadal can claim a 21st Grand Slam trophy to break the mark of the men they currently share with Roger Federer.
Before that, however, Djokovic – and apparently anyone else who has any interest in tennis or recent developments related in some way to the pandemic – will wait to see what happens in a court hearing Sunday on his appeal for a second revocation of his visa by the Australian government.
He could be expelled.
“I will not lie: It has been in almost every newspaper over the last two weeks. It has received a lot of attention. A lot of people are definitely talking about it,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 23-year-old. the elderly man from Greece, who is ranked No. 4 in Melbourne Park and was Djokovic’s runner-up at last year’s French Open. “That’s why I’m here to talk about tennis … There has not been enough talk about tennis in the last two weeks, which is a shame.”
Usually, the Australian Open – known as the “Happy Slam” – serves as a kind of festive start to a new tennis season.
Players have a chance to rest, recharge and prepare during the off-season. They have a clean proposal, or mostly clean, depending on whether they have played any tuning matches. Some appear wrinkled in their style of play. Some come up with a new coach, eager to see how the relationship can work.
“It feels like we are being pushed away by competitors who just want to start. We are eager to go out and compete. The Australian Open is always an incredible event, my home slam, my favorite tournament,” said Nr. 32- seed Alex de Minaur, a 22-year-old Australian. “After all, tennis is an individual sport and we have all been here in Australia for a while, preparing for this tournament. We all want to get on with our things.”
Story lines and areas of intrigue tend to be numerous in Melbourne. As it is, this time it was destined to be a little different, given the important players missing for one reason or another, including Federer, Serena Williams and Venus Williams.
But Nadal’s return to action Slam for the first time since Djokovic’s semi-final loss to Paris in June is a big deal.
Likewise, she is also defending the arrival of Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka, with what she says is a new perspective after two mental health breaks in 2021, including one that ended her season in September.
Given Osaka’s candid revelations about depression and anxiety, it was meaningful Saturday when she burst into a full smile. When she joked with reporters. When she appeared as comfortable as she could be.
Like Nadal. He said he is excited to be back on tour. He has exercised well. He mentioned the “positive attitude” and the “work spirit”.
Only when the topic was Djokovic did Nadal seem less than excited.
“I wish him all the best. I really respect him,” Nadal said of someone he has played a tournament record 58 times since 2006, “even if I [do] “I do not agree with much of what he has done in the last two weeks.”
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