Palma de Mallorca, Spain, Aug 4 (efe-epa).- Spanish tennis great Rafael Nadal announced Tuesday on social media that he will not play this year’s US Open, citing concerns about the coronavirus.
It had appeared that the 34-year-old world No. 2 and defending champion at Flushing Meadows would make the trip to New York.
Nadal and Serbian world No. 1 Novak Djokovic both appeared on the acceptance list for the Western & Southern Open, a hard-court event that normally is played near Cincinnati, Ohio, but is being held this year at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York, the venue for the US Open, so that players can avoid additional travel amid the pandemic.
That ATP Tour Masters 1000 hard-court event is scheduled to begin on Aug. 22, while the US Open – one of the four biggest events of the tennis season – is slated to start on Aug. 31.
The 33-year-old Djokovic would have been the favorite at the US Open anyway, but now his path is less strewn with obstacles due to the absence of Nadal and 38-year-old Swiss great Roger Federer, who underwent knee surgery early this year and will not compete again until 2021.
“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 wrote on Twitter. “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.”
New York City once was the global epicenter of the virus, but the number of new daily cases in New York state – home to nearly 20 million people – have plunged in recent weeks and totaled just 695 on Monday.
Yet despite the improved situation in the Big Apple and the fact that the US Open will be played behind closed doors, the four-time winner of that hard-court major tournament said his concern about the coronavirus was the key factor in his decision.
“The situation is very complicated worldwide, the COVID-19 cases are increasing, it looks like we still don’t have control of it,” said Nadal, who could have equaled Federer’s record tally of 20 Grand Slam men’s singles titles by capturing this year’s US Open.
Another potential reason for Nadal’s decision is his concern about the upcoming schedule, with the player noting Tuesday that “we know that the reduced tennis calendar is barbaric this year after four months stopped with no play.”
The Spaniard’s best chance every year to win a major tournament is at the French Open, which normally is held in late May and early June but this year was pushed back by several months to Sept. 27-Oct. 11.
For Nadal, winner of a mind-boggling 12 Roland Garros titles, that would mean an abrupt – and highly unusual – transition this year from the hard courts of the US to Europe’s red clay.
Doubts persist, however, about events in Europe due to the ever-growing coronavirus case load.
Nadal’s announcement coincided with the cancelation of the Mutua Madrid Open, a Roland Garros tune-up tournament that had been scheduled to be held from Sept. 13 to Sept. 20. EFE-EPA