Rafael Nadal will have ‘unfair’ questions to answer if he finishes his career with more Grand Slams than rival Novak Djokovic due to the Serb’s vaccination status, Ivan Lendl believes. Nadal leads Djokovic by 22 majors to 21 in tennis’ fight to be the greatest men’s player of all time.
But Djokovic could find himself barred from further tournaments over his refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The Wimbledon champion was infamously deported from Australia earlier this year and appears set to miss out on the US Open later in August.
Lendl believes the ‘GOAT’ (Greatest Of All Time) debate will be settled if Djokovic wins more Grand Slams than Nadal. However, he fears that the Spaniard will need to answer some questions if ends on more majors than the Serb.
“I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed with Novak. I’m also disappointed with Rafa. Right now, Roger seems to be the only one out of it [the GOAT debate] because he hasn’t played in a long time and he’s also the oldest,” Lendl told Russian publication Novosti, with the quotes since translated into English.
“If Novak wins the most Grand Slams despite that, I think we will have an answer. If Rafa ends up with one more, I think he will have to answer questions about vaccinations and why Novak didn’t play. And I don’t think that’s fair.
“I would like to see someone with two, three or four more Grand Slam trophies. I don’t care who it will be, I don’t have a favourite, just for the benefit of answering that question, to make everything clear. And not to say, ‘if this man could play, it would be different, your record is not good enough’. It’s not fair.”
Lendl, who is back working with Brit Andy Murray, believes it is a ‘regret’ that politics has involved itself in the discourse. He added: “That story is not over yet. It will only be completed when all three retire. It’s fascinating to watch, not only for people from the tennis world but also for all other fans.
“The only thing I regret a little bit is the fact that politics got involved because of the vaccination issue. I just hope that in 20 years we won’t look at it through that prism, that we won’t be sure who is the greatest because of politics.”
Djokovic is likely to be barred from the upcoming US Open, with tournament organisers insisting they will respect government guidelines. Individuals entering the country must prove they have received at least two vaccinations.
A tournament statement read: “Per the Grand Slam Rule Book, all eligible players are automatically entered into the men’s and women’s singles main draw fields based on ranking 42 days prior to the first Monday of the event.
“The US Open does not have a vaccination mandate in place for players, but it will respect the US government’s position regarding travel into the country for unvaccinated non-US citizens.”