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Doubts grow over US Open participation of top players

hannahwilks in US Open 14 Jul 2020
Rafael Nadal has committed to playing the 2020 Madrid Masters in September (ALTERPHOTOS/A. Perez Meca/Sipa USA)

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.