Tennis: Nadal ‘sorry’ for Djokovic but says he knew the risks

Rafael Nadal hits a return during his men's singles match against Ricardas Berankis, in Melbourne on Jan 6, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

MELBOURNE (REUTERS, AFP) - Rafael Nadal said he feels sorry for Novak Djokovic after the world No. 1 was denied entry into Australia but added that the Serb knew for months he could potentially face problems if he arrived without being vaccinated against Covid-19.

Djokovic, 34, was detained by officials at the border on Wednesday (Jan 5) amid a storm of protest about the decision to grant him a medical exemption from vaccination requirements to play in the Australian Open.

The player, who has won nine Australian Open titles including the last three, is holed up in a quarantine hotel in Melbourne as his lawyers sought an urgent injunction against deportation.

“Of course I don’t like the situation that is happening,” Nadal told reporters after winning his match at the Melbourne Summer Set ATP 250 tournament on Thursday. “In some way I feel sorry for him.

“But at the same time, he knew the conditions since a lot of months ago, so he makes his own decision.”

The 35-year-old Nadal tested positive for Covid-19 last month after playing at an exhibition in Abu Dhabi. The Spaniard said he faced “very challenging” few days.

Djokovic, who has publicly criticised mandatory vaccines, has refused to disclose his inoculation status and said he has been granted a medical exemption to compete in Australia.

Nadal said what has been happening was not good for anyone.

“Seems some rough situation,” Nadal said. “It’s normal that the people here in Australia get very frustrated with the case because they have been going through a lot of very hard lockdowns, and a lot of people were not able to come back home.

“I believe in what the people who knows about medicine say, and if the people say that we need to get vaccinated, we need to get the vaccine. That’s my point of view.”

Nadal stepped up his return from Covid-19 and injury with a patchy win over qualifier Ricardas Berankis at the Melbourne Summer Set tournament.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion launched his Australian Open preparations with a 6-2, 7-5 win in the second round, his first singles match on the ATP Tour since August.

Nadal, who suffered a foot injury last year and sat out Wimbledon and the US Open in 2021, received a first-round bye at the Melbourne Summer Set before meeting Lithuania's 104th-ranked Berankis.

Nadal, who played doubles on Tuesday, looked in good touch early on and wrapped up the first set comfortably, breaking Berankis twice.

He broke Berankis early in the second set and looked on track for a straightforward win when he led 5-2, only for his serve to go off the boil and allow the Lithuanian back into the match.

Berankis levelled the set at 5-5 before Nadal at last held serve, then broke once more to wrap up victory.

He will now play either Australia's Alexei Popyrin or Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands in the quarter-finals.

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