New title favourites Daniil Medvedev and Rafael Nadal have expressed their sadness and disappointment at Novak Djokovic’s absence from the US Open.
But Nadal says the show will always go on with or without the sport’s biggest stars.
Djokovic is sitting out his second grand slam of the season because of his ongoing refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
His decision not to tow the line of more than 95 per cent of his peers on tour leaves the Serb trailing Nadal, with 22 majors, by one grand slam crown in the men’s all-time title race.
Fellow grand slam glutton Roger Federer, also missing the Open ahead of his planned comeback this month from another round of knee surgery at the Laver Cup exhibition event, has won 20 slams.
While politely offering his condolences for Djovokic’s latest lost opportunity, the Spaniard reminded the reigning Wimbledon champion he wasn’t the only player to ever miss a big tournament.
“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. 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).”
Djokovic only withdrew hours before Thursday’s draw in New York, after finally giving up hope the US Government would relax restrictions in time.
“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,” Nadal said ahead of his first-round match on Tuesday with Australian wildcard Rinky Hijikata.
“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.”
Nadal is back for the first time in three years chasing a fifth title in the Big Apple, having chosen not to travel 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. 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,” Nadal said.
“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.”
Medvedev, who denied Djokovic a calendar-year grand slam in last year’s final, said he wished the Serb was in New York.
“The rivalry against Rafa is really I feel like heating up in a way. Twenty-two, 21 – a joke of a number.
“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.”