Rafael Nadal of Spain attends a press conference ahead of the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Simon Baker)

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Rafael Nadal is set to play his first Grand Slam in more than seven months after a painful left foot injury kept him out of a single tournament in the second half of last season. In December he fell ill with COVID-19.

There are many topics of interest here, isn’t there? After all, he has 20 grand slams to his credit and is one of the most significant figures in tennis history. His very presence at Saturday’s pre-Australian Open press conference was newsworthy, or would have been on almost any other occasion.

Because the leading figure in the run-up to this Australian Open has been and seems destined to be Novak Djokovic and his hopes of defending the title in a competition that requires being vaccinated against the coronavirus even though he is not. So Nadal, with his words and body language, expressed the sentiment of many in the tennis world when he shrugged his shoulders, exhaled loudly and said the following about the never-ending story of whether or not his opponent will play: “Honestly, I’m a little tired of the situation”.

“The Australian Open is much more important than any one player,” Nadal said. “If he finally plays, fine. If he doesn’t play, the Australian Open is going to be a great Australian Open, with or without him. That’s my point of view”.

Unlike Djokovic, Nadal is vaccinated. The same as 97 of the Top 100 of the ATP ranking and 96 of the Top 100 of the WTA.

“All of this could have been avoided just by getting vaccinated like we all have done, doing what had to be done to come to Australia,” said Garbiñe Muguruza, a 28-year-old Spanish champion of two Grand Slams and third seed. “Everyone knew the rules very clearly. You have to abide by them, period. It doesn’t seem that difficult to me.”

For the moment, Djokovic is booked to play on Monday, in the opening day of the first major of the year, in which both he and Nadal aim to win their 21st Grand Slam and surpass the mark they share with Roger Federer.

But first, Djokovic – and, it seems, anyone who has the slightest interest in tennis or the latest news related in any way to the pandemic – will have to wait and see what happens at a court hearing on Sunday on his appeal to the second revocation of your visa by the Australian government.

They could deport you.

“I won’t lie: It’s been all over the news the last few weeks. It has received a lot of attention. A lot of people talk about it,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 23-year-old Greek seeded fourth at Melbourne Park. “I came here to talk about tennis… There hasn’t been much talk about tennis in the last two weeks, it’s a shame.”

Known as the “Happy Slam”, the Australian Open is often a kind of joyous start to the new tennis season.

Players arrive rested, with recharged batteries and months of preparation during the break. They arrive with a blank sheet or almost blank, depending on whether or not they have played in previous tournaments. Some show changes in their style of play. Some have a new coach and are eager to see how the relationship turns out.

Nadal’s return to a Slam after losing to Djokovic in the semi-final at Roland Garros in June is big news.

As is the arrival of defending champion Naomi Osaka, who comes with what she called a fresh perspective after two hiatus for mental health reasons in 2021, the second of which ended her season in September.

Given his frank revelations about depression and heartbreak, it was notable on Saturday that he appeared with a broad smile and exchanged pleasantries with the press. When she looked as comfortable as can be.

The same as Nadal. He says he’s excited to be back on tour. He has trained well. He spoke of his “positive attitude” and “working spirit.”

His mood only changed when the Djokovic issue came up.

“I wish him well. I really respect him,” Nadal said of someone he has faced 58 times, a tour record, “even though I don’t agree with a lot of things he did in the last two weeks.”

Rafael Nadal of Spain attends a press conference ahead of the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Simon Baker)

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