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Nadal says Djokovic knew the risks in Australia: ‘If you are vaccinated, you can play’

Tennis star Rafael Nadal said on Jan. 6 he felt “sorry” for Novak Djokovic after he was denied entry into Australia, but that the Serb knew the consequences. (Video: Reuters)

It’s Nadal vs. Djokovic — but not on the tennis court.

Rafael Nadal, the Spanish tennis star, said he felt “sorry” that his rival Novak Djokovic’s visa to Australia was canceled after uproar about his coronavirus vaccination status. Djokovic is preparing an appeal on Monday as the world No. 1 is reportedly held at a hotel in Melbourne used to house undocumented immigrants.

But Nadal, speaking Thursday after winning a match at the Melbourne Summer Set ATP 250 tournament, told reporters that Djokovic knew the risks.

“It’s normal that the people here in Australia get very frustrated with the case because they have been going through a lot of very hard lockdowns,” Nadal said. Djokovic “makes his own decision,” he added.

Nadal said that he believes “in what the people who know about medicine say, and if the people say we need to get vaccinated, we need to get the vaccine,” before pointedly adding, “If you do this, you don’t have any problem to play here.”

“If you are vaccinated, you can play in the Australian Open and everywhere,” he added.

Novak Djokovic thought he’d aced Australian immigration. It now looks like a fault.

Djokovic, 34, who won the Australian Open last year, was detained by officials at the airport amid growing outrage over a decision to award the athlete a visa and medical exemption from vaccination requirements.

Australia, once known for its tough “covid zero” policies to keep the virus at bay, is now grappling with the omicron variant and one of the world’s sharpest spikes in infections.

Nadal and Djokovic have previously tested positive for the coronavirus.

The Djokovic situation has spawned debate on social media along with memes, as airlines offer the player a ride home and others refer to him as “Novax Djokovic.”

“Rules are rules, and there are no special cases,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters Thursday, as he thanked border officers and confirmed that Djokovic’s visa had been canceled.

“Our government’s strong border protection policies, and particularly in relation to the pandemic, [have ensured] Australia has one of the lowest death rates of covid anywhere in the world,” he said.