NEW YORK (Reuters) – World number one Daniil Medvedev said he was disappointed his U.S. Open title defence at Flushing Meadows would kick off without Novak Djokovic, after the 21-times major winner was unable to travel to the United States.

The lanky Russian pulled off one of sport’s greatest upsets with cat-like agility a year ago when he denied Djokovic a calendar Grand Slam in a straight sets win on Arthur Ashe Stadium to collect his first major title.

But there will be no rematch this year as Djokovic, who has opted not to get the COVID-19 vaccine, said on Thursday he would not be able to fly to New York.

Current rules require travellers to show proof of vaccination to board flights to enter the U.S.

“I wish he would play here,” Medvedev told reporters ahead of the U.S. Open main draw, which starts on Monday.

“The rivalry against Rafa (Nadal) is really I feel like heating up in a way. Twenty-two, 21 (Grand Slams), a joke of a number,” he said referring to the number of major titles won by Nadal and Djokovic respectively.

“It’s a pity he (Djokovic) is not here. It would be a great story I think for tennis. Not only tennis-wise, but it’s not us tennis players, it’s American government rules. Completely understandable also.”

Medvedev rolls into the U.S. Open after a handful of uneven performances, winning at Los Cabos before suffering a shock early exit in Montreal. He reached the semi-finals at Cincinnati, where he has often thrived.

“The biggest challenge always is to play tennis,” he said. “I say this because we want to win every tournament. I mean, I managed to win only one this year, but I played maybe 12, 13, 14. I want to win every of them that I play. It’s always a constant challenge.”

His hunger for a second major title is as fierce as ever after losing a five-set thriller to Nadal in the Australian Open final. The six-foot six-inch, power-serving Russian said he wanted to try “something big” in New York.

“I’m working well. I’m working well with my team. I’m confident in myself,” he added.

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