I am not here because Rafa pulled out: Djokovic

The World No 1 says his decision to play the US Open wasn't influenced by the absence of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal

Novak Djokovic

World No 1 Novak Djokovic dismissed the notion that he changed his stance on the US Open, and opted to play the American hard-court Slam because his rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are missing and that their absence may make it easier for him to win the title.

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“I did not make my decision because Rafa pulled out. I mean, if that’s what people want to hear,” Djokovic said during a media conference ahead of the Western & Southern Open, which began in New York on Saturday.

“I wanted to come to US Open and play here because I really wanted to restart on a hard court where I feel the most comfortable. That’s the surface that I have most success on.

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“So I did make my call to come, but I wasn’t 100% sure whether that’s going to happen or not until certain points were defined and clarified before coming here, which was, as I mentioned before, the special exemption, coming without quarantine back to Europe and so forth, few other details. Once that was checked and I flew over, that’s it.”

The 33-year-old Serb is 18-0 this year so far and is fast closing in on Federer and Nadal’s major tally. While Federer still leads the pack with 20 Grand Slam titles, Nadal isn’t far behind at 19 and Djokovic has won 17 majors. Eleven of Djokovic’s Slams have come on hard courts.

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And to be fair to Djokovic, he hasn’t lost a Grand Slam match to Nadal since 2014 and the last time he was beaten by the Swiss at a major was at Wimbledon 2012.

“Whether I have a bigger chance to win it because Roger and Rafa are not here, I really don’t know,” Djokovic said.

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“I think it’s unfair for me to talk about. That in a way is kind of disrespectful towards other players who are here. I mean, Dominic Thiem, (Alexander) Zverev, (Stefanos) Tsitsipas, (Daniil) Medvedev, these guys, they are as good as the top three guys, myself, Roger, Rafa.

“Anybody can take it, to be honest. And especially now after six months of absence from the tour, we don’t really know how we are going to feel on the court. We are going to have Cincinnati, which is great, have the tournament before US Open. But it’s still six months without competition, best of five (sets).

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“Every Grand Slam I play is an opportunity to get a title. I know that. But I’m not the only one. Every other player, who is playing here, has a chance to win it.”