Rafael Nadal will not be scared of anyone now that Novak Djokovic is no longer in Melbourne at the Australian Open, according to Eurosport's Mats Wilander.
Djokovic has left Australia after a last-ditch visa appeal was rejected. The world No. 1 initially had his visa cancelled for failing to adequately meet the criteria for a medical exemption but won an appeal.
Australia’s immigration minister, Alex Hawke, then re-cancelled the visa "on health and good order grounds”. The nine-time champion at Melbourne Park again challenged the decision, but that effort was thrown out.
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As for Nadal, he cruised through his opening match with a comfortable straight-sets victory over Marcos Giron. Wilander believes the Spaniard will not be scared of anyone in the main draw as he eyes an extended run.
"I think the intimidation factor in the locker room is massive because Rafa in the locker room is on fire," Wilander told Eurosport's Alize Lim.
"If they [his opponents] let Rafa play, they get shocked. They get shocked in the locker room, and they get shocked in the first couple of minutes as well.
"He is going to win these early matches, he knows that, but it's not enough to play like that against the best players later on.
"I think it is the perfect draw. For Rafa, this is the absolute perfect start - and for me, it's also the perfect start because I have goosebumps. I'm so excited that we have started, finally.
"It is really important for Rafa because, when Novak is in the draw, there is a chance that he will just be too good. It doesn't matter how well Rafa plays up until that point. Especially on the hard courts, it is completely different.
"Suddenly, Novak is not there, and Rafa can actually go in and say, 'If I get my level really high, I am not scared of [Alexander] Zverev, I am not scared of [Daniil] Medvedev, I am not scared of anyone'. Novak is not there."
Nadal wrapped up the contest in one hour and 51 minutes, and after the match, he reflected on everything he had to battle through to get to Melbourne Park playing well.
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"The last six months have been tough," he said. "Being outside of the competition, but since the first lockdown in 2020 everybody knows I've had a foot injury since the beginning of my career.
"I was able to manage it more or less well. After that, two months being at home, it has been very challenging since then.
"I was able to play at the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, but I have had very tough moments with a lot of doubts. I can't be happier to be back here in Australia in this amazing stadium. It's fantastic for me.
"When you come back from injury, things are always difficult. You have to go day-by-day. You have to forgive yourself when things are not going your way. Staying positive, playing with the right energy and being on the tour practising with the guys and winning matches for sure helps.
"Last week I won three matches, I won a title which is always beautiful. I'm doing better."
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