Novak Djokovic shuts down Rafa Nadal after 'terrible' Australian Open drama

The 22-time grand slam champion has responded emphatically to complaints from his long-time rival.

Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal, pictured here at the Australian Open.
Novak Djokovic has emphatically shut down Rafa Nadal's complaint about the Australian Open balls. Image: Getty

Novak Djokovic has shut down complaints from rivals about the quality of the balls at the Australian Open, saying the conditions for Sunday night's final were the best he's "ever played in". Rafa Nadal was among the many to question the balls that were being used at Melbourne Park this year, labelling them the "worse quality".

"The speed of the court I think (is) not big difference. The ball, yes," the Spanish champion said ahead of the grand slam. “They say (it) is the same, but the ball is worse quality, without a doubt. We can’t talk about that any more. It’s what we have. We need to play with it.

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“I think it’s a ball that doesn’t get the same spin as usual. After a couple of hits, the ball loses the pressure. It’s more difficult to hit with the right spin. But I think it’s easier to play when you play flatter on the shots."

Canadian sixth seed Felix Auger Aliassime also lashed out over the balls during a match, labelling them "terrible" quality. “I don’t want to complain about it but the balls are not bouncing,” he told the chair umpire at one stage.

“It’s crazy. I mean, we’re hitting normal but I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s the batch of cans (that the balls are in), they’re terrible.”

But speaking to Channel 9 after beating Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday night's final, Djokovic said the conditions couldn't have been better, making special mention of the balls. “You know, I said this a million times but I have to repeat it again – if I have to choose one court, conditions, balls, it would be night session Rod Laver with these balls,” he said.

“I mean, for me, (it was) by far the best conditions that I’ve ever played in.”

Working in Djokovic's favour was the fact he played all seven of his matches at night time. Organisers gave Djokovic the prime time slot for every match he played - the first time an Australian Open champion has played every match in the night session at one tournament.

Novak Djokovic, pictured here showing off the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup after winning the Australian Open for a 10th time.
Novak Djokovic shows off the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup after winning the Australian Open for a 10th time. (Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images)

Novak Djokovic plays seven night matches at Australian Open

Nadal crashed out in the second round - the second day game he played at the tournament, while Auger Aliassime was also playing in the day session when he complained about the balls. While Djokovic's rivals were sweating it out in the heat of the day, he was afforded seven-straight matches in the relative cool of the night session.

“Top players get preferential treatment in terms of scheduling. Goodness knows,” Catherine Whittaker of The Tennis Podcast said of Djokovic's favourable schedule. “This is not news. This is not Djokovic specific by any means, but it is a bit extreme.

“I don’t think there’s ever been anybody who played all seven matches at night before (at the Australian Open). Doesn’t there reach a stage of the tournament where sporting integrity steps in?

“Both his last two losses (at the Australian Open) came in day sessions… I still think he’d be in the final if he’d played every match in the day session, I’m just saying it makes a difference. It’s not nothing.”

Co-host David Law said it was “maybe not" fair to Djokovic's rivals. He added: "That’s just the way it’s always been one way or another. I think they have gone out of their way to make him feel comfortable.”

Djokovic has now won 28-straight matches at the Australian Open and 41 at all events Down Under. His last loss in Australia came against Hyeon Chung in the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park in 2018 - in a day game.

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