Novak Djokovic speaks following his US Open defeat against Daniil Medvedev.
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Rafael Nadal’s surprise announcement that he could return to competitive action as early as next month may just pile the pressure on Novak Djokovic to make sure he doesn’t miss the Australian Open. That’s the view of one tennis great, who believes Nadal’s mooted participation in Melbourne may give the Serbian food for thought.
The Australian Open will take place, as always, in January, but the build up to the first major tournament of 2022 has been far more complicated than usual.
There has been much speculation – and very few solid answers – over whether or not unvaccinated players will be allowed to travel.
Australia’s prime minister said recently that those who have not had the jab would be allowed to take part if they completed a two-week quarantine period and submitted to daily testing.
However, it didn’t take long for Daniel Andrews, premier of the state of Victoria in which the tournament will take place, to shut that idea down.
He said he would not be granting any exception to unvaccinated players to allow them to enter the state, leaving national and local government at loggerheads over what the rules will be.
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All this furore means Djokovic, who has regularly refused to publicly disclose his vaccination status, still does not know if he will be allowed to defend his title.
If he gets the jab, or proves to officials that he is already fully vaccinated, then he will be able to travel for sure and follow all the same rules as everyone else.
But if he doesn’t, and the state of Victoria does not budge on its stance, then he will certainly miss the first Grand Slam of 2022.
It was expected that both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal would miss the competition too through injury, but the latter has now announced that he hopes to be fit and firing by then.
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All three are level on 20 career Grand Slam titles each, and Australian former pro Todd Woodbridge wonders if Djokovic would be happy to afford the Spaniard a greater chance of taking the lead on that front.
Woodbridge, who won 16 major doubles titles in a stellar career, believes Nadal’s participation could force Djokovic into a decision.
“One thing that stood out to me is that Novak has been laid the challenge from Rafael Nadal,” he told 2GB radio.
“Now, the challenge within that is, ‘does he win the tournament and take 21 [major wins] and get back in front?’ Does Novak want to let him do that?
“I’m sure he won’t want to be in that position, so at some point Novak is going to have to make that call [as to whether he gets vaccinated].
“Novak – he continues to keep us guessing. But, in the end, it’s only building pressure on him to make a decision one way or the other. And – who knows? – maybe he already has.”
As well as Djokovic, several other high-profile players have yet to prove their vaccination status.
US Open winner Daniil Medvedev has also chosen to keep quiet on whether or not he has had the jab, meaning he too might miss the tournament.
And world number three Stefanos Tsitsipas’ participation is also not certain, although he has hinted that he plans to get the jab before the end of the year.
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