Rafael Nadal has signalled his intention not to defend his US Open title this year in a major blow for the American Grand Slam event.
The Spanish great has been announced in the field for the rescheduled clay-court Madrid Open, which starts the day after the final at Flushing Meadows.
Then, in a further blow for the US Open, Novak Djokovic announced that he still has serious doubts over whether to play in the event due to fears over New York’s high levels of coronavirus infections.
President Trump has previously spoken of his determination to see top level sports played in the US as soon as possible, and the likelihood of the world’s best players missing the US Open will be not go down well.
With an election looming in November, any suggestion that the US is not safe is likely to anger him. The president has been keen to get the country reopened, and as early as April called for sport to return , saying he was ‘tired of watching baseball games that are 14-year-old’
Rafael Nadal has signalled his intention not to defend his US Open title in September this year
The tennis great is unlikely to play in both the Madrid Open and Flushing Meadows this year
It appears highly unlikely that Nadal would play in both the Spanish event, which begins on September 13, and what is due to be the first Major back. ‘I talked to my friend Rafael Nadal and he has confirmed his participation in Madrid,’ tweeted tournament director Feliciano Lopez.
Nadal’s absence would be a huge dent to the New York tournament’s prestige, especially as Roger Federer is already a non-runner through injury.
It puts the whole venture into more doubt, with a decision on it going ahead likely by the end of the month. The US is grappling with severe coronavirus numbers in many states and New York has been hit hard.
Nadal has said that he wouldn’t feel comfortable traveling to New York, where European players would have to be quarantined upon entering the country, and then quarantined again upon returning to Europe.
Novak Djokovic, pictured with his wife Jelena, has raised fresh doubt over his participation too
The major at Flushing Meadows could face losing all of its top stars due to coronavirus
‘Well, it is not an ideal situation, honestly no,’ Nadal said last month. ‘If you ask me today if I want to travel today to New York to play a tennis tournament, I will say no, I will not.
‘In a couple of months, I don’t know how the situation is going to improve. Hopefully, it’s going to improve the right way, and I’m sure the people who organize the event, the USTA, want a safe event.’
World No 1 Novak Djokovic has admitted that he still has concerns over whether to play in the US Open and does not yet know if he will compete due to fears over the levels of coronavirus in New York.
The city has had over 217,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19, and more than 18,500 deaths. New York had 918 new cases of coronavirus confirmed last Thursday.
The grim new tally was the first time that new infections were above 900 since June 12, and governor Andrew Cuomo said when announcing the number on Friday that the latest data should act as a warning for all.
‘I still haven’t decided whether I will play in the U.S. Open, the upsurge in registered COVID-19 cases in the United States and New York in particular are not playing into the event’s hands,’ Djokovic told Wednesday’s issue of Serbia’s daily Sportski Zurnal.
Djokovic recently tested positive for Covid-19 after his disastrous Adria Tour tennis series was called off following a spate of players also testing positive.
The Serb and the other players ignored social distancing and were pictured playing football together as well as partying in a nightclub.
Djokovic, whose wife Jelena also tested positive, has since tested negative, having self-isolated in Belgrade since the initial result.
Both Djokovic and his wife are anti-vaxxers, and he has previously said that he would not play professional tennis if it were mandatory to have a vaccine against Covid-19 in order to compete.
Djokovic recently tested positive for Covid-19 after some of his fellow players did too while playing on his disastrous Adria Tour, where they ignored social distancing guidelines
Djokovic (centre) and his fellow players were also seen partying in a nightclub
They also played basketball – Grigor Dimitrov (right) was one who tested positive for Covid-19
With Nadal’s history of knee problems, making a quick transition from hard to clay courts would be extremely risky, assuming he reached the second week in New York.
So it looks likely that Nadal will instead concentrate on building up to late September and Roland Garros, where he is almost invincible.
Should he skip the US Open it would be the first time a defending Grand Slam champion has voluntarily ceded his title in more than 40 years.
Another factor in play for Nadal is the ATP’s decision this week to temporarily switch to a ranking system based on averaged out results over 22 months rather than 12 months. This means that Nadal, who has publicly spoken of being reluctant anyway to travel to New York, could only equal or lose ranking points by playing there, as he won it in 2019.
He appears content to put all his eggs in the basket of Paris, where he could equal Roger Federer’s 20 Major titles.
It appears likely Nadal will instead concentrate on building his fitness before the French Open
The Spaniard has not yet pulled out of the US Open but if he does so Djokovic is surely more likely to travel across the Atlantic to try and add to his tally of 17 Grand Slam trophies.
Andy Murray said that he wants to play at the US Open but had concerns over safety.
‘Playing at a behind-closed-doors US Open is something I intend to do – as long as it is safe,’ he told the BBC.
‘For me, one of the big issues is around the policing of the “bubble” around the tournament – if that’s what they are doing. What would be the punishment for people who are not sticking to the rules that are put in place?
‘Imagine the situation where you are at a latter stage of the US Open but someone has gone out of that bubble, broken those rules and gone into Manhattan.
‘If that is something they shouldn’t be doing and then the virus comes into the bubble, and you’re not able to compete in the quarter-finals or semi-finals of the US Open because of it, you would be extremely frustrated.
‘How would they police that? I don’t know exactly but that needs to be something which is ironed out.’