Australian Open players were weary on Saturday of the Novak Djokovic visa saga overshadowing the opening Grand Slam of the year with Rafael Nadal saying no one is bigger than the tournament.
World number one Djokovic has been detained again in Australia after authorities tore up his visa for the second time and said he posed a threat to the public.
He faces deportation and his chances of defending his men’s title at Melbourne Park look increasingly slim.
His lawyers are fighting to keep him in the country in a controversy that has lasted for more than a week.
Nadal has everything to gain if Djokovic is sent off, with both players striving to become the first to win an unprecedented 21 Grand Slams.
While emphasizing that he respects the Serb as a person and a player, Nadal made it clear that no one is bigger than sport.
“I tell you one thing, it is very clear that Novak Djokovic is one of the best players in history, without a doubt. But there is not a single player in history who is more important than an event, right? he said.
“The players stay and then leave, and other players arrive. Nobody, even Roger (Federer), Novak, myself, Bjorn Borg who was incredible in his time, tennis continues.
“The Australian Open is far more important than any player,” he added.
“If he finally plays, okay. If he doesn’t play, the Australian Open will be a great Australian Open with or without him.”
Nadal added that the saga had gone “too far” and that he was “a bit tired of the situation because I just believe it’s important to talk about our sport, about tennis”.
Defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka said she didn’t know the Serb well, but was sad that he was remembered more for his anti-vaccination stance than for his feats in the field.
– ‘Australians have been through a lot’ –
“I think it’s an unfortunate situation. He’s such a great player and it’s kind of sad that some people can remember (him) that way,” she said, two days before. the start of the tournament.
World number four Stefanos Tsitsipas slammed the 20-time Grand Slam winner earlier this week, saying he was “playing by his own rules”.
But he was reluctant to get involved again on Saturday.
“I’m here to talk about tennis, not Novak Djokovic,” the 23-year-old Greek said.
“I’m not going to lie. He’s been pretty much all over the media for the past few weeks. He’s gotten a lot of attention. A lot of people are obviously talking about him.
“That’s why I’m here to talk about tennis. We haven’t talked about tennis enough in recent weeks, which is a shame.”
But Djokovic won the cautious backing of world number three Alexander Zverev, who suggested Djokovic was an example.
“I think Novak is a really big name, a global superstar. I think he’s someone who maybe people think they can make a big deal out of just because he’s Novak,” he said. he declared.
“I don’t know enough about the situation, but I think if it wouldn’t be Novak Djokovic, world number one, with 20 Grand Slams, all that, then it wouldn’t be such a big drama. I believe that,” he added.
But Australia’s leading men’s prospect, Alex de Minaur, was fed up, saying it was hurting the tournament and other players.
“First of all, this whole situation has distracted us from the attention of competitors. We are here to play the Australian Open.
“It feels like it takes us away from competitors who just want to start.”
Pressed on whether Djokovic had been the author of his own death, he replied: “Listen, Australians have been through a lot. There’s no secret about that. They’ve had a lot of trouble.
“They did a lot of work to protect themselves and their borders. When you arrive, along with all the other tennis players, if you wanted to enter the country, you had to be double vaccinated.”
Former world number one Andy Murray, who will play at the Open, said he hoped Djokovic’s status would be cleared up, but added: “I’m not going to sit here and start kicking. foot to Novak while he’s down.”