MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Rafa Nadal said on Saturday “too many questions” still needed to be answered concerning Novak Djokovic’s bid to play at the Australian Open, while other leading players lamented how the saga had overshadowed the year’s first Grand Slam.
The lead-up to the tournament has been completely dominated by world number one Djokovic’s battle to compete at Melbourne Park in the face of a government trying to deport him after cancelling his visa twice.
Questions remain over how Djokovic was given a health exemption by Australian authorities to play in the tournament without being vaccinated for COVID-19, only to have his visa cancelled on arrival.
Doubts have also been raised over the positive COVID-19 test that underpinned the health exemption, though a Serbian health ministry official defended the player this week.
Spanish great Nadal, level on a record 20 Grand Slam titles with Djokovic and the absent Roger Federer, said he wished him “all the very best” but wanted more details about his case.
“From my point of view (there) is a lot of questions that need to be answered,” Nadal told reporters at Melbourne Park.
“In some ways I think (it) will be good if everything clarifies soon, no?
“I really respect him, even if I (do) not agree with a lot of things that he did the last couple of weeks.”
After having his visa cancelled for a second time on Friday, Djokovic will fight to have the decision overturned at a court hearing on Sunday.
His bid to play the Grand Slam unvaccinated has triggered widespread anger in Australia, where 90% of adults are inoculated. The government’s efforts to deport the Serb have been broadly supported.
‘NOT VERY FAIR’
However, third seed Alexander Zverev said the Serb had been treated unfairly and might have been used as a political pawn by Australian authorities.
“I don’t think he would have travelled here just by luck without him thinking he would be able to play, with him having the right authorisation to be in the country,” said the German.
“If you would have the visa, you would think you would be playing.
“I think Novak is a very big name, a global superstar. I think that he is someone that maybe people think they can make a big deal out of it just because it’s Novak.
“The Australian government and the Victorian government should have been clear on what is going to happen beforehand. I think it’s not very fair for a person to come here and not be able to play.”
Fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas said the situation had taken the spotlight away from tennis.
“I won’t lie. It has been pretty much on every news outlet the last couple of weeks,” the Greek said at Melbourne Park, two days before the tournament starts on Monday.
“Not enough tennis has been talked about in the last couple of weeks, which is a shame.”
Australian Open women’s champion Naomi Osaka empathised with Djokovic’s predicament, having felt discomfort being the centre of attention when she withdrew from the French Open following a row with organisers over mandatory media commitments.
“I think it’s an unfortunate situation. He’s such a great player and it’s kind of sad that some people might remember in this way,” said the Japanese 13th seed.
“I know what it’s like to kind of be in his situation in a place that you’re getting asked about that person, to just see comments from other players, it’s not the greatest thing. Just trying to keep it positive.”
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Cynthia Osterman/Editing by Peter Rutherford)