Rafa Nadal has expressed his sadness that Novak Djokovic isn't allowed to compete at the US Open, but reiterated that it remains his rival's choice not to get vaccinated and therefore only has himself to blame.
Djokovic announced his withdrawal from the grand slam in New York on Thursday, conceding that he wouldn't be allowed into the United States due to his vaccination status.
American border rules still require overseas visitors to show proof of vaccination to gain entry into the country.
'ABSOLUTE JOKE': Nick Kyrgios at centre of US Open controversy
'NEVER SEEN THAT': Emma Raducanu breaks down in shock drama
However there was a chain of thought that the rules could soon be relaxed and Djokovic be allowed to play.
But when no such relaxation came in time for Thursday's draw at Flushing Meadows, Djokovic conceded defeat and announced his withdrawal.
Discussing the situation at Flushing Meadows on Friday, Nadal politely offered his condolences to long-time rival Djojkovic.
However just like he did when Djokovic was detained by border officials before the Australian Open in January, Nadal reminded the Serb that it was his choice not to comply with the rules.
"I repeat what I said plenty of times - the sport in some ways is bigger than any player," Nadal said.
"I missed a lot of important events in my tennis career because of injuries, without a doubt.
"Last year I was not here. Two years ago I was not here. The tournament continues. The world of tennis keep going.
"Even if it is not a good news for everyone, the world continues and the tennis will continue after me, after Novak, after Roger (Federer). Every year will be for the slams champion. That's it.
"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 added: "From my personal perspective, it's very sad news. It's always a shame when the best players of the world are not able to play a tournament because of injuries or because of different reasons.
"It's tough for the fans, tough for the tournament. In my opinion, tough for the players, too, because we want to have the best field possible."
World No.1 Daniil Medvedev, who beat Djokovic in the US Open final last year to deny the Serb a calendar-year grand slam, said he wished Djokovic was in New York.
"The rivalry against Rafa is really I feel like heating up in a way, 22 and 21 (grand slam titles) - a joke of a number," he said.
"It's a pity he is not here. It would be a great story for tennis. Not only tennis-wise, but it's not us tennis players, it's American government rules. Completely understandable also."
Sadly, I will not be able to travel to NY this time for US Open. Thank you #NoleFam for your messages of love and support. ❤️ Good luck to my fellow players! I’ll keep in good shape and positive spirit and wait for an opportunity to compete again. 💪🏼 See you soon tennis world! 👋🏼
— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) August 25, 2022
Rafa Nadal confident of overcoming injury concerns
Nadal is back at the US Open for the first time in three years, chasing a fifth title in New York.
The 22-time grand slam champion chose not to travel to America in 2020 and then missed out with a foot problem last year.
He is yet to lose a best-of-five sets match this season but is short on match practice, having only competed once since being forced out of Wimbledon ahead of the semi-finals with an abdominal tear.
"It's a tough injury because it's dangerous, it's risky," he said.
"When you have a scar, it's a place that you put in a lot of effort when you are serving. You need to find flexibility again.
"I am doing things the best way that I can. I hope to be ready for the action. That's the only thing that I can say.
"With the tools that I have today, I hope to be competitive enough to give myself a chance."
Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.