Novak Djokovic will decide “in the next few days” whether or not to join the US Open champion Rafael Nadal in withdrawing from this month’s tournament.
If the world No 1 pulls out, the tournament, due to start on 31 August, will be considerably weakened, given five-times champion Roger Federer is resting after a second knee operation and several other leading players in both draws have withdrawn or expressed reservations about travelling to New York, with women’s world No 30 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova the latest player to join the list of absentees.
Nadal, who withdrew on Tuesday hours after the Madrid Open was cancelled, says he is confident the French Open would start as planned on 27 September, although he remains cautious. He confirmed he will be at Roland Garros, where he has won a record 12 titles.
“In my mind, I am preparing for it,” the 34-year-old Spaniard said on Wednesday. “But we have to wait for events, to see how everything evolves, because it is true that in recent weeks the situation seems to have worsened a little. But my hope and my intention would be to be there if conditions allow.”
France’s health minister, Olivier Véran, warned recently there were signs of a resurgence of Covid-19 in Paris, where the seven-day average of new cases rose above 1,000 last week for the first time since early May.
Meanwhile, Djokovic“still hasn’t made a decision in regard to his participation at the US Open”, Sasa Ozmo of leading Serb sports website Sportklub tweeted. “Decision in the next few days.”
Even though the 33-year-old Serb trails Nadal by two career slams on 17, and is three behind Federer, who turns 39 on Saturday, he could yet forego the chance of a fourth US Open title and prepare instead for the French, where he completed his career slam of all the majors in 2016.
The conundrum for Djokovic and other players outside the United States is whether or not they will be asked to quarantine for two weeks when they return home. The United States Tennis Association said on Wednesday that the issue is not yet resolved.
Djokovic, who would start a strong favourite in New York, has won all 15 of his Tour matches in this disjointed season, including the Australian Open in February, and is said to have recovered from coronavirus after he and his wife, Jelena, contracted it during his doomed Balkans exhibition tour. But he shares Nadal’s concerns about travelling to such a volatile environment, despite stringent health precautions announced this week by the USTA.
Fresh restrictions include 24-hour surveillance of designated accommodation for players and their support groups, with expulsion among the penalties for those who break curfew. Djokovic, who travels with one of the biggest retinues in tennis, has objected to such strict requirements.
Other absentees from New York include the world No 1 Ashleigh Barty, Simona Halep and now Pavlyuchenkova in the women’s draw, and Barty’s compatriot, Nick Kyrgios. Alexander Zverev, the world No 7, is also doubtful. If Djokovic stays away, other contenders – including Andy Murray, Dan Evans and Kyle Edmund – will be torn between joining the exodus or trying for a more attainable prize.
Nadal said there should be no asterisk against the winner’s name, adding: “I respect there are other players in different situations and they need to play because they need to earn some money after a few months without income or anything.”
The USTA on Wednesday cut prize money for the 2020 men’s and women’s champions from $3.85m to $3m, but set aside $7.6m for player relief due to coronavirus, to be distributed by the ATP and the WTA, and increased money for first-round losers by five per cent from $58,000 to $61,000. Overall, prizemoney is down about five per cent from 2019 to $53.4m. The USTA would have lost around $120m in worldwide TV rights had the tournament been cancelled.