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‘No one is bigger than the tournament’ – focus on the tennis, urge players ahead of Australian Open

The show must go on. Giving reporters a dose of perspective, Rafael Nadal tells reporters that no player is bigger than the tournament in Melbourne. Many of his peers feel the same way.

Rafael Nadal, Melbourne 2022 Tennis – ATP 250 – Melbourne Summer Set – Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia – January 4, 2022 Spain’s Rafael Nadal is escorted past fans after winning his doubles match with Jaume Munar against Argentina’s Sebastian Baez and Tomas Martin Etcheverry || 216896_0018

The tennis world has been maniacally fixated on Novak Djokovic’s ongoing battle with the Australian government; the world No 1 continues to dominate the news cycle ahead of his court date on Sunday, as tennis fans digest steady streams of law speak and live stream court sessions live on You Tube.

These are the craziest of times.

In the meantime a bevy of world-class players are ready for a return to normalcy. On Friday in Melbourne as media day kicked off, many star players told reporters that they are tired of being asked to give their opinion on the Djokovic saga; with one day remaining until first ball at the Australian Open the prevailing sentiment among the players who sat at the podium on media was: “Let’s talk tennis!”

Exhibit A: Rafael Nadal did his customary pre-tournament press conference and proceeded to put things in perspective for the media on hand.

Nadal: Australian Open is far more important than any single player

Nadal has been a voice of reason throughout the pandemic, and he has continued in that role this week in Melbourne. When asked about what the Australian Open draw would be like if Djokovic isn’t allowed to play, he was quick to point out that fans are in for a great tournament, whether Djokovic is allowed to compete or not.

“I tell you one thing, it’s very clear that Novak Djokovic is one of the best players of the history, without a doubt,” Nadal said. “But there is no one player in history that’s more important than an event, no? The players stay and then go, and other players are coming. No one, even Roger, Novak, myself, Bjorn Borg who was amazing at his times – tennis keeps going.

“Australian Open is much more important than any player. If he’s playing finally, okay. If he’s not playing, Australian Open will be great Australian Open with or without him. That’s my point of view.”

Rafael Nadal

Nadal, along with many other players, expressed a desire to move on from the Djokovic controversy and turn the focus back to the tennis.

“I think the situation have been too far. Honestly I’m little bit tired of the situation because I just believe that it’s important to talk about our sport, about tennis,” he said.

De Minaur: the controversy has taken the spotlight from the players

Australia’s Alex de Minaur is also eager to put the Djokovic story in the rearview mirror. The No 32 seed feels that it is time for the public to focus on the upcoming fortnight, and the 110th staging of the Australian Open.

“I think first of all, this whole situation has taken a lot of spotlight away from us competitors,” he said. “We’re here to play the Australian Open. We’re here on our own terms ready to compete, hopefully have a very good couple weeks.

“[The Djokovic saga] feels like it’s taking away from us competitors who just want to start. We’re just eager to go out and compete. The Australian Open is always an incredible event, my home slam, my favorite tournament. To be honest, I’m just ready to put all of this behind me and focus on playing my tennis matches, kind of let my tennis do the talking.”

Stefanos Tsitsipas couldn’t agree more. He told reporters he didn’t want to talk about Djokovic, but was still asked another question about the controversy that seems to never end.

“I won’t lie. It has been pretty much on every news outlet the last couple of weeks,” he said. “It has received a lot of attention. A lot of people are obviously talking about it. That’s why I’m here to talk about tennis. It has received a lot of attention, as I said. Not enough tennis has been talked about in the last couple of weeks, which is a shame.”

Some like to point out that the whole situation could have been avoided if Djokovic had just taken the jab like everybody else in the draw. Spain’s Garbine Muguruza gave her opinion, but not after admitting that she too is feeling a bit worn down by the prevalence of the story.

“I feel like every time I’m in the press conference this question gets asked,” she said, adding: “I answered in Sydney.”

The No 3-seeded Spaniard says the rules were clearly stated months ago. It shouldn’t have been this complicated.

“I think all this could have been avoided, like we’ve all done, by getting vaccinated, doing all the things we had to do to come here in Australia,” she said. “Everybody knew very clearly the rules. You just have to follow them and that’s it. I don’t think it’s that difficult.”

Medvedev: Is there a real legal reason behind this?

Russia’s Daniil Medvedev has his own unique perspective. The Russian seems genuinely curious about how things will turn out for Djokovic, and he’s curious to know: what are the nuts and bolts of the government’s case against the Serb?

“Tomorrow we’re going to know a little bit more because it was definitely different decisions last few weeks,” said the No 2 seed. “I want to say about Novak’s situation that we’re in Australia, it’s their rules. But from what I know, again, if he has a valid exemption to be in this country and to do what he wants, then he should play. If the exemption is not valid or something else is not valid, well, any country can deny your entry.”

Medvedev says he is very curious to see how Sunday’s appeal shakes out.

“I know yesterday the prime minister (actually the immigration minister), let’s say, said no,” he said. “I didn’t really read anywhere why. That’s what interests me to know, the reason. Is it just he said, ‘I don’t want?’ Is there a real legal reason behind this? I guess we’re going to know a little bit more tomorrow at the appeal.”

Whether Djokovic is in the draw or not, Medvedev knows he will not see him until the final. For now, like the rest of the players, all he can do is focus on himself.

“Definitely a tough situation for everybody,” he said. “Talking about myself, well, even if Novak is in the draw, I can only see him in the final. I need to win six matches before this. It would not change much my preparation for the tournament itself or for any match.”

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