Rafael Nadal heads Down Under as the 20-time Grand Slam champion recovers from Covid to arrive in Melbourne ahead of the Australian Open – but doubts remain over world No 1 Novak Djokovic’s participation
Rafael Nadal gave tennis fans a late Christmas present as he revealed he had touched down in Melbourne ahead of the Australian Open.
Having tested positive for Covid following an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi earlier this month, the 20-time Grand Slam champion’s position was in jeopardy and he accepted his schedule was up in the air.
But Nadal took to social media on Friday morning to show him stood on court inside the Rod Laver Arena, ending fears the first Slam of the year would go on without Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic or Nadal.
Rafael Nadal surprised his fans by showing him on court at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne
Players, including Sir Andy Murray and Naomi Osaka, have been arriving in Australia over the last few days to step up their preparations for the 2022 season.
The ATP Cup starts on Saturday but for Nadal he has signed up for an ATP 250 event in Melbourne as his pre-Slam event.
But others are finding their plans put on hold with disruption caused by the Omicron Covid variant seemingly inevitable.
Nadal made his comeback from injury at the exhibition event in Abu Dhabi – his first tournament appearance since the Citi Open in Washington in August – and it ended in two close defeats by Murray and Canadian star Denis Shapovalov.
Nadal had made his return to the court at an exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi this month
On his return to Spain, Nadal confirmed that he and his coach had tested positive for Covid
He explained he experienced ‘unpleasant moments’ after testing positive for Covid on his return to Spain but having touched down in Melbourne on Friday he wrote: ‘Don’t tell anyone… … here I am!’
Tournament director Craig Tiley had previously expressed his optimism that while Federer is out injured and vaccine sceptic Djokovic is yet to detail his vaccination status, Nadal would feature.
‘I’m confident Rafa will be here,’ tournament organiser Tiley said on December 22.
‘Players that are testing positive now will complete a period of time until they are no longer infectious and they will be fine.
‘If you are going to test positive and you want to play the Australian Open, your timing would be now.’
Question marks remain over Djokovic’s availability but it appears the nine-time Australian Open champion is looking into a way to play.
Novak Djokovic’s participation is in doubt due to issue of strict vaccine requirements in Melbourne. Players and staff are mandated to be vaccinated to play at the Australian Open
Djokovic has refused to speak publicly on his vaccination status but is well aware by now that all players and staff at the Australian Open must be vaccinated or have a medical exemption.
The world No 1 has already pulled out of the season-opening ATP Cup, which begins on Saturday, where he had been due to lead his country.
His replacement, Dusan Lajovic, has revealed, however, that Djokovic’s plan is to play in Melbourne.
Lajovic said: ‘Unfortunately he’s not able to come here but he was I think hoping, same as we did, somehow he will be here. Unfortunately he’s not, and we’ve got to deal with it.’
Regarding Djokovic’s chances of playing in Melbourne, Lajovic added: ‘He just said he’s not coming to the ATP (Cup) and trying to get to Australian Open.’