Bertens, Svitolina pull out of the US Open

Top-10 players Kiki Bertens and Elina Svitolina have announced that they won’t be playing the US Open in 2020, joining a list of high-profile withdrawals.

As the Grand Slam tournament, scheduled to be played behind closed doors from 31 August-13 September in New York, draws closer, two top-10 WTA players became the latest to pull out.

World no. 5 Elina Svitolina, a US Open semifinalist in 2019, announced her withdrawal on Twitter, writing:

‘Considering all the aspects, I have decided not to play the US Open 2020 … I still don’t feel comfortable to travel to US without putting my team and myself at high risks.’

 

Bertens posted a statement on her Instagram announcing that she wouldn’t be playing the US Open, explaining:

‘The situation around COVID-19 is still that worrying and the health of everyone and the control over this virus is priority.

‘Our prime minister indicated yesterday that we should be quarantined for 14 days after coming back from the states.

‘Off course [sic] we respect this as a team and this would disturb our preparation for my beloved clay court tournaments in Rome and Paris.’

 

Bertens has also withdrawn from the Western & Southern Open, usually played in Cincinnati but relocated to New York to form a two-tournament bubble with the US Open in 2020. The Dutch player won the title in Cincinnati in 2018.

World no. 1 Ashleigh Barty, her compatriot Nick Kyrgios and defending champion Rafael Nadal all pulled out of the US Open over the past week. Gael Monfils, Fabio Fognini and Stan Wawrinka are among other players who won’t be appearing. On the other hand, Andy Murray has taken a wildcard, as has fellow former champion Kim Clijsters.

Travel restrictions, rather than having to comply with COVID-19 health and safety regulations, are likely to be the biggest stumbling block for most players who are trying to decide whether to make the trip to the USA or not.

Marca reported yesterday that the ATP top 20 had delivered an ultimatum to the ATP and USTA to guarantee that they would not have to quarantine for 14 days on travelling to Europe from the USA. This has not been confirmed.

The concern is that having to quarantine for 14 days, or any length of time at all really, would decimate the player’s chances at the French Open. After the cancellation of the Mutua Madrid Open, which was due to begin on the day of the US Open men’s final, there is now only one ATP Tour event scheduled between the US Open and the French Open – the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome from 20-27 September. With the French Open to be played at Roland Garros from 28 September-11 October, transitioning between surfaces and continents is going to be brutal enough – in Nadal’s words, ‘barbaric’ – without potentially having to quarantine for the entire fortnight between the two Grand Slams.

In addition to already being based in Europe, Bertens has won six of her ten career WTA Tour titles on clay including the Mutua Madrid Open in 2019, her biggest to date. She is 18-9 at the French Open, where she reached the semifinals in 2016, but has a poor record at the US Open where she has never been past the third round.

World no. 2 Simona Halep is among other top WTA Tour players who have yet to confirm that they intend to play the US Open. Halep pulled out of this week’s Palermo Ladies Open at which she was supposed to lead the draw, citing a surge in COVID-19 cases in her native Romania and ‘anxieties’ about international air travel, but has flown to the Czech Republic today for next week’s Prague Open.

Rafael Nadal has pulled out of the US Open in New York, declining to defend his title due to the global health crisis.

‘This is a decision I never wanted to take,’ world no. 2 Nadal wrote as he made his decision to withdraw from the 2020 US Open public.

The US Open will take place behind closed doors in New York from 31 August-13 September. It forms a two-tournament ‘bubble’ with the Western & Southern Open, relocated from Cincinnati to New York for this year only and due to be played from 22-28 August.

Nadal won his third US Open title in 2019 when he defeated Daniil Medvedev in five sets in the final. But speculation has been rife for months that the Spaniard would not play at the 2020 tournament.

In a statement released on social media, Nadal wrote:

‘After many thoughts I have decided not to play this year’s US Open. The situation is very complicated worldwide, the COVID-19 cases are increasing, it looks like we still don’t have control of it.

‘We know that the reduced tennis calendar is barbaric this year after 4 months stopped with no play, I understand and thank for the efforts they are putting in to make it happen. We have just seen the announcement of Madrid not being played this year.’

Nadal had previously publicly committed to playing the Madrid Masters, which begins on the day of the US Open men’s final, signalling that he was prioritizing the European clay-court season over defending his US Open title.

It was officially confirmed on Tuesday that the Mutua Madrid Open had been cancelled due to a spike in COVID-19 cases in Spain. The Rome Masters (20-27 September) and the French Open (27 September-11 October), at which Nadal is hoping to win an incredible thirteenth title, are still scheduled, with the French Open even planning to allow 60% of spectator capacity at Roland Garros.

Nadal went on:

‘All my respects to the USTA, the US Open organisers and the ATP for trying to put the event together for the players and the fans around the world through TV.

‘This is a decision I never wanted to take but I have decided to follow my heart this time and for the time being I rather not travel.’

Nadal is not the first player to decline to travel to the USA due to health anxieties. World no. 1 Ashleigh Barty cited ‘significant risks’ to which she declined to expose her team when she pulled out of the Grand Slam, and compatriot Nick Kyrgios followed suit, framing his withdrawal as a moral stance.

Roger Federer is also not playing the US Open, having shut down the remainder of his 2020 season down in July to prioritize a second knee operation. Among top-10 players, world no. 9 Gael Monfils also won’t be appearing in New York.

Nadal does not need to fear taking a hit in the rankings due to not playing the US Open. The ATP announced a revised rankings system a few weeks ago which means that he retains the 2,000 points he earned from winning the tournament in 2019 until the US Open is played again in 2021.

World no. 1 Novak Djokovic currently leads the men’s field, although entry for ranking players is automatic, so appearing on the player entry list does not guarantee that he will actually play.

Andy Murray has said that he hopes and intends to play the US Open, although he may need a wildcard to do so. Djokovic, Murray and world no. 37 Marin Cilic would be the only former champions in the field, with Stan Wawrinka joining Federer and Nadal on the list of players not appearing.

Polarised pandemic approaches: Nick Kyrgios has pulled out of the US Open because of health concerns but Andy Murray is determined to play if possible.

In an instance of contrasting views which mirrors the divided state of the sport, this weekend saw one high-profile player announce that he could not reconcile it with his conscience to play the US Open, while another redoubles his commitment to doing just that.

Former world no. 1 Murray had admitted to previous scepticism about whether or not the US Open would even be played, but said on Sunday that he was determined to compete in it if possible:

‘I love playing the biggest events, even though this will be different, with no fans. But that is something I care about and I’m willing to take a risk to go and play.’

The 2020 US Open is scheduled to be played behind closed doors in New York from 31 August-13 September, and will be immediately preceded by the Western & Southern Open from 22-28 August, which has been relocated from Cincinnati to form a two-tournament ‘bubble’ with the Grand Slam.

Currently ranked world no. 129, Murray has not played an official match since the Davis Cup Finals last November, although he has competed in both of the Battle of the Brits exhibition tournaments organised by his brother Jamie. Murray came close to retirement in January 2019, but is attempting to rekindle his career after a hip resurfacing operation, although that is proving to be a difficult journey. He has not played at a Grand Slam since the Australian Open a year and a half ago, and admitted himself that his own uncertainties about how many opportunities he will have to do so have fed into his decision to play a US Open which – with no fans and many top players not entering – might bear little resemblance to previous editions:

‘I’ve missed it, missed it a lot. The situation I’ve been in the last few years, I’ve not had opportunity to play in many slams. I don’t know how many I’ll have left.

‘So, while I’m feeling relatively decent … obviously there is a risk there, but I want to try and play in them [Cincinnati and the US Open] and enjoy the biggest events again.’

Murray had previously speculated about entering qualifying for the Western & Southern Open in a bid to try to get more matches, but confirmed that he will enter the main draw instead.

Meanwhile, Nick Kyrgios became the latest high-profile player to pull out of the US Open.

Kyrgios’s withdrawal follows the example set by WTA world no. 1 Ashleigh Barty last week, but while his compatriot released a brief statement saying that she didn’t feel comfortable exposing herself and her team to the ‘significant risks’ inherent in travelling to the USA at this point, Kyrgios framed his decision as a moral stance.

Speaking on Instagram via ‘athlete empowerment platform’ Uninterrupted, Kyrgios said:

‘I’ve got no problem with the USTA putting on the US Open, and if players want to go, that’s up to them, so long as everyone acts appropriately and acts safely. …

‘I will not be playing this year at the US Open. It hurts me to my core not to be out there competing in one of the sport’s greatest arenas, Arthur Ashe Stadium. But I’m sitting out for the people, for my Aussies, for the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have lost their lives.’

Kyrgios has been tireless and vehement on social media in criticising the behaviour of other ATP Tour players he deems to have acted irresponsibly, singling out the players who participated in Novak Djokovic’s Adria Tour and Alexander Zverev, who was filmed in a crowded bar after promising to self-isolate, in particular. And his US Open announcement included a rebuke to them in no uncertain terms:

‘But tennis players, you have to act in the interests of each other and work together. You can’t be dancing on tables, money-grabbing your way around Europe or trying to make a quick buck hosting an exhibition. That’s just so selfish.

‘Think of the other people for once. That’s what this virus is about. It doesn’t care about your world ranking, or how much money you have.’

Former world no. 1 Andy Murray says he is ‘apprehensive’ about the 2020 US Open, but planning to play.

Murray and Johanna Konta, the WTA no. 14 and British no. 1, both believe that the US Open looks set to go ahead despite the global health crisis.

The Grand Slam is scheduled to be played behind closed doors in New York from 31 August-13 September, but opinion is split on whether or not it will take place and if it does, how many top players will travel for it.

Murray said:

‘Four or five weeks ago, we were pretty sceptical about it. But mentally at some stage you need to start preparing and planning for that.

‘If it wasn’t happening, my schedule for practising, my rehab, would all be a bit different. Mentally I’m planning for it to go ahead.’

The three-time major champion hasn’t played a Grand Slam since the Australian Open in January 2019, shortly before he underwent a major hip operation. He was speaking to media ahead of this week’s Battle of the Brits Team Tennis event, at which he only reportedly plans to play doubles. Murray’s only tournament of any kind since last November was June’s Battle of the Brits, at which he reached the semifinals but later withdrew from the third-place play-off due to pain in his shins.

Murray said:

‘I’m still trying to build up to get ready for New York. It would be good for me to get some competitive matches in for sharpness and stuff, but there’s a lot of tennis this week and I don’t want to take any risks with the tournaments in the States just a few weeks away. Right now I’m training on the court four days a week.’

Players have been doubtful about the prospect of travelling to the USA, which has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the world, for the US Open, fearing that they will need to quarantine upon arrival or return to Europe and either suspecting that the tournament will not be safe or chafing against safety measures such as limited entourage numbers. But if Murray is any indication, players might now be feeling more cautiously optimistic.

‘My feeling is that some sports have obviously come back and seem to have done pretty well. … The issue for us is the travel so, yeah, we’ll probably be a bit apprehensive getting over there. We’re getting tested before we arrive, so hopefully once we get there, the players, the staff and everyone are in this secure bubble and everything will be fine. That is my hope.

‘I was thinking about maybe travelling somewhere beforehand to get in a bit of hot-weather training but then you’re increasing your risk of catching the virus, which then means you can’t potentially train or travel for a couple of weeks, which could then put playing a grand slam in doubt. So there are things like that, where I’ve had to change my thinking.

‘Hopefully the US Open can go ahead and it’s OK. But if not, I’m also OK with that. It’s not like I’m saying it must go ahead. So long as it’s safe for the players, then we need to try to get back to competing when it’s safe to do so.’

Konta is also expecting the US Open to go ahead, saying:

‘Everything is pointing in the direction that it is going to go ahead. They have been quite vocal that they are pushing forwards. Just basing my opinion on all the information that is there, I think it probably will.

‘As far as I understand, as professional athletes I think we can come back without quarantining as of now. But I don’t know if that has changed in the last 12 hours.’

Konta was a quarterfinalist at last year’s US Open. She will be playing for the British Bulldogs at Battle of the Brits Team Tennis, and features on Monday’s lineup.

Defending US Open champion Rafael Nadal and world no. 1 Novak Djokovic’s participation is uncertain while Simona Halep says she is ‘worried’.

The US Open announced in mid-June that the tournament would be going ahead despite the global COVID-19 health crisis, with state governor Andrew Cuomo giving permission for the event to be played behind closed doors. But it seems increasingly uncertain whether tennis’s biggest stars will be there.

Nadal is the defending champion, winning his fourth title in 2019 with a five-set victory over Daniil Medvedev. But the Spaniard has now publicly committed to playing the Mutua Madrid Open, which begins on the day of the US Open men’s final.

Tournament director Feliciano Lopez jubilantly announced Nadal’s participation on Twitter, and it was confirmed by the man himself, who responded ‘See you in September in Madrid’:

With the ATP Tour announcing its revised ranking system, which means players can only count points from one iteration of an event played between March 2019 and December 2020, Nadal does not need to fear taking a hit in the rankings if he does not defend his US Open title – he will keep the points earned from winning the 2019 event until the 2021 tournament is played.

A more significant factor is the French Open. The biggest events of the European clay-court season – back-to-back Masters 1000 Series events in Madrid and Rome, followed by the two-week French Open – have been rescheduled from May and will now take place in a four-week period immediately following the French Open. Nadal is unlikely to jeopardise his chances of an incredible thirteenth Roland Garros title – and a twentieth major title overall, tying Roger Federer’s – by travelling to another continent to play on hard courts.

Djokovic can gain points by playing the US Open, after retiring in the fourth round against Stan Wawrinka in 2019. But the Serb has sounded sceptical about the possibility of playing the US Open, and this week told Serbian media that he still didn’t know whether or not he would play in New York – but definitely intended to play Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros.

Dominic Thiem, the world no. 3, has also recently expressed doubts about the US Open.

The USA remains the global nation hit hardest by COVID-19, with over three million cases and more than 130,000 deaths.

Simona Halep, the reigning Wimbledon champion, said this week that she still isn’t sure whether she will play the US Open – but added that she was ‘a little bit worried’.

‘I have no idea at the moment because nobody knows what is going to happen after this month.

‘I will wait to see what is being decided, see what the other players will do.’

The US Open’s case has not been helped by a slew of positive tests among players and support staff directly linked to the Adria Tour exhibition series, organised by Djokovic himself, or the news last week that Frances Tiafoe tested positive at the first tennis event in the USA to allow spectators, although organizers have been keen to emphasize that very different – and much stricter – health and safety protocols will be in place.