Rafa Nadal has welcomed the return of Novak Djokovic to Australia despite previously criticising his vaccination stance. Djokovic landed in Australia on Tuesday night for the Aussie summer of tennis, just under 12 months after he was deported from the country back in January.
Djokovic had his visa cancelled and was deported ahead of the 2022 Australian Open due to his vaccination status. He had originally obtained a medical exemption because he recently had Covid-19, but immigration officials later declared it invalid.
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Nearly one year on, Djokovic is back in Australia and will begin his preparations for the first grand slam of 2023 at the Adelaide International. Nadal, who won the Australian Open in January in Djokovic's absence, will be playing the new United Cup in Sydney.
When asked about Djokovic's return to Australia on Wednesday, Nadal said: "Novak is here. Good for tennis, good for probably the fans. Let's see, no? Best players on court always win."
Nadal has been critical of Djokovic's vaccination stance in the past and offered little sympathy when his rival was deported from Australia. Speaking ahead of the US Open in September, which Djokovic also missed due to not being vaccinated, Nadal said: "I repeat what I said plenty of times - the sport in some ways is bigger than any player.
"Without a doubt, Novak is one of the most important players of the last 20 years, the history of our sport. In a personal way I feel sorry for him that he's not able to travel here. But in the other hand ... (it's his choice)."
Nadal also won the French Open in 2022 before Djokovic claimed the title at Wimbledon. Nadal now leads Djokovic 22 to 21 in the men's all-time grand slam race.
Despite a poor second half of the year, Nadal said on Wednesday that he was raring to go for the Aussie summer. He will lead Spain in pool matches against Great Britain and Australia in the mixed gender team event.
"The highest motivation to try to start well. It's always important to start well for me, for the confidence," he said. "The last few months haven't been easy for me. Main thing for me now is recover the positive feelings on court, being competitive. I hope to. I am ready to make that happen, but let's see."
Rafa Nadal not thinking about retirement just yet
Nadal, who recently became a father for the first time at age 36, says he hopes his Australian Open campaign won't be his last. Rumours have been swirling in recent months that the Spanish champion will retire in 2023.
"Hopefully not. I mean, when you are at the age of 36, you never know when is going to be the last one," he said. "It's obvious, but don't like to talk about that because I am not in that mood now.
"Just focus on and try to play at the highest level possible and give myself the possibility to keep being competitive, to fight for anything. That's my goal now.
"I'm not thinking about it being my last time here. I am happy doing what I am doing. I'm looking forward to keep doing this."
Nadal's highly-anticipated clash with Nick Kyrgios will no longer take place after the Aussie star announced his withdrawal from the United Cup on Wednesday. Nadal will instead take on Alex de Minaur when Spain plays Australia after he tackles Cameron Norrie in a first-up tie against Great Britain.
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