Rafael Nadal will not defend his United States Open men’s singles title.
On Tuesday, one day after the entry deadline, Nadal announced that he was withdrawing from the tournament because of his concerns about travel during the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is a decision that I did not want to take,” he said on Twitter. “But in this case, I am following my heart by deciding that right now I prefer not to travel.”
Nadal, 34 and ranked No. 2 behind Novak Djokovic, is a four-time singles champion at the U.S. Open and won the singles title last year after a lengthy and memorable five-set duel with Daniil Medvedev in the final.
With 19 Grand Slam singles titles, he is just one short of matching Roger Federer’s men’s record, but he has decided to wait. His next chance could come at the French Open, which he has won a record 12 times and which is scheduled to start on Sept. 27 — just two weeks after the men’s final at the U.S. Open.
“Rafa is one of the greatest champions in the history of our sport, and we support this decision,” said Stacey Allaster, the U.S. Open tournament director. “I know our fans will be disappointed to not have Rafa playing this year’s Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, however, for the fans and the sport, we look forward to being inspired by him when he decides he’s ready to play.”
Nadal did not specify on Tuesday that he would play this year’s French Open but he already had committed to playing at least some of the clay court season when he announced that he would play at the Mutua Madrid Open the week following the U.S. Open.
The Madrid event, one of the most prestigious tournaments on both the men’s and women’s tours, was canceled on Tuesday after the organizers received a recommendation from Spanish public health authorities to call it off because of an increase in positive virus tests in some parts of Spain.
“The situation is very complicated worldwide; the Covid-19 cases are increasing,” Nadal said. “It looks like we still don’t have control of it.”
Nadal was in Indian Wells, Calif., in early March, set to play in the BNP Paribas Open before the event was called off on the eve of the qualifying tournament. He traveled back to his base in Majorca, Spain, where he went through lockdown before returning to train at the tennis academy he started in his home city of Manacor.
The women’s tour resumed this week with a clay court event in Palermo, Italy, but the men’s tour has been shut down for nearly five months and is not set to resume until later this month in New York, with the Western & Southern Open followed by the U.S. Open.
The Western & Southern Open, normally played in the suburbs of Cincinnati, was moved to New York this year to create a doubleheader in a controlled environment where it would be easier to maintain strict health and safety protocols. Spectators will not be allowed on site at either tournament.
“All my respects to the U.S.T.A., the U.S. Open organizers and the ATP for trying to put the event together for the players and fans around the world through TV,” Nadal said.
But Nadal will instead be watching from afar. So will Federer, who announced that he will not play again in 2020 as he recovers from his latest knee surgery. The last Grand Slam tournament without both Federer and Nadal was the 1999 U.S. Open, which was won by Andre Agassi.
Ashleigh Barty, the No. 1 women’s player, announced last week from her home in Australia that she was withdrawing because of concerns about travel and the health risks for some of her team members.
But many leading players are, at least for now, committed to playing the U.S. Open, including Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Karolina Pliskova, Sofia Kenin and Bianca Andreescu, the reigning women’s champion. In the men’s event, Djokovic and six other top 10 players remain on the entry list including Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and Medvedev.
But as Zverev pointed out last week, players are closely monitoring the health situation in New York and the travel situation internationally.