Rafa Nadal says he is ‘very sad’ that his rival will be absent from the US Open
Tennis stars Rafa Nadal and Daniil Medvedev say that Novak Djokovic’s non-participation in this month’s US Open will hurt the competition, but added that the show must go on in the absence of the Serbian great.
Djokovic will miss his second Grand Slam event of the year after being unable to gain entry to the United States due to federal rules which prohibit unvaccinated travellers from entering the country – a development which follows January’s fraught showdown with immigration officials in Melbourne ahead of the Australian Open.
The former world number one remains an outlier on the tennis tour as being the most high profile player to have declined to receive a vaccination against Covid-19, despite around 95 percent of his fellow players having done so.
It is a decision which, on the surface at least, appears to have hurt Djokovic’s standing in the sport and allowed Nadal to eke out a lead in the all-time Grand Slam wins stakes after winning both the Australian and French Opens.
Djokovic, who claimed the 2022 Wimbledon crown, trails the Spaniard by one major win (22 vs 21), while the other man in the triumvirate of tennis greats of this generation, Roger Federer, has 20 Grand Slam wins to his name.
With injury ruling Federer out of the event at Flushing Meadow and Djokovic’s vaccination status doing the same, Nadal’s status at the top of the Grand Slam list is assured for at least another few months.
And speaking to the media ahead of his bid to claim a fifth US Open Nadal said that it is “sad” that Djokovic won’t be competing against him, but added that the Serbian star must accept the consequences of his decisions.
“I repeat what I said plenty of times: the sport in some ways is bigger than any player,” Nadal said. “I missed a lot of important events in my tennis career because of injuries, without a doubt. Last year I was not here. Two years ago I was not here. The tournament continues.
“The world of tennis (will) keep going, even if it is not good news for everyone. The world continues and the tennis will continue after me, after Novak, after Roger.
Sadly, I will not be able to travel to NY this time for US Open. Thank you #NoleFam for your messages of love and support. ❤️ Good luck to my fellow players! I’ll keep in good shape and positive spirit and wait for an opportunity to compete again. 💪🏼 See you soon tennis world! 👋🏼
— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) August 25, 2022
“Without a doubt, Novak is one of the most important players of the last 20 years, the history of our sport. In a personal way I feel sorry for him that he’s not able to travel here. But on the other hand … (it’s his choice).
“From my personal perspective, it’s very sad news,” he added. “It’s always a shame when the best players of the world are not able to play a tournament because of injuries or because of different reasons.
“It’s tough for the fans, tough for the tournament. In my opinion, tough for the players, too, because we want to have the best field possible.”
Elsewhere, Russia’s Daniil Medvedev, who is arguably one of the players to have benefited the most from Djokovic’s various absences from top-level events this season, said that it is a “pity” that Djokovic will be unable to play but added that the rules imposed by the US government are there for a reason.
“The rivalry against Rafa is really heating up. Twenty-two, 21 – a joke of a number,” Medvedev said. “It’s a pity [Djokovic] is not here. It would be a great story for tennis. But it’s not us tennis players, it’s American government rules. Completely understandable also.”
Meanwhile, US Open organizers have responded to queries as to why they didn’t pursue an exemption to allow Djokovic to play the event, stating that the rules to do so have changed 2020 and 2021, and that it left them with no means to appeal Djokovic’s enforced absence.
“The USTA was in regular contact with several departments within the United States Federal Government including the Department of Homeland Security, Customs & Border Control and the State Department,” they said in a statement.
“In all instances, we were informed that the US Government was no longer considering third party applications for National Interest Exemptions.”