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Defending Champion Rafael Nadal To Skip U.S. Open Over COVID Concerns

Defending U.S. Open champion Rafael Nadal will skip the U.S. Open due to concerns over COVID-19.

With Nadal’s decision, this will mark the first Grand Slam tournament since the U.S. Open in 1999 (won by Andre Agassi) that won’t feature either Nadal or his arch-rival Roger Federer, who previously announced he was done for 2020 with knee surgery.

“After many thoughts I have decided not to play this year’s US Open,” the 19-time Grand Slam champion said on Twitter. “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.

“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.

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“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, 34, owns 19 Grand Slam titles, one shy of Federer’s all-time men’s mark of 20. He will still be able to tie Federer in 2020 if he wins Roland Garros for a 13th time. The French Open is set to begin Sept. 27, two weeks after the U.S. Open.

Nadal has been training on clay in his native Spain and there had already been doubts that he would come to New York for the Open, even though he was announced as playing in the Western & Southern Open in New York beginning Aug. 22.

He had been committed to playing the Madrid Open on clay starting the day after the U.S. Open final, but that event was canceled Tuesday due to COVID concerns.

The ATP Masters 1000 event is typically held in May, but was rescheduled to September because of the virus.

“We have given our all to stage the tournament,” Tournament Director Feliciano Lopez said. “After the first cancellation in May, we got to work on the September date with the hope of being able to enjoy first-class tennis in the Caja Mágica during this year, which has been so hard for everyone. However, the continued instability is still too great to hold a tournament like this in complete safety. Once again, we would like to thank the Madrid City Council and all of our sponsors and suppliers for being by our side during every step we have taken.”

Without Nadal or Federer, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic becomes a huge favorite to win his 18th major title in New York.

The USTA announced Tuesday that Djokovic would play the Open.

Joining Djokovic, a three-time US Open champion, among the Top-10 players on the entry list are No. 3 Dominic Thiem, of Austria; No. 5 Daniil Medvedev, of Russia, a 2019 US Open finalist; No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas, of Greece; No. 7 Alexander Zverev, of Germany; No. 8 Matteo Berrettini, of Italy; and No. 10 David Goffin, of Belgium. Marin Cilic of Croatia, the 2014 U.S. Open champion, is also entered.

The 13 Americans who received direct entry into this year’s tournament are No. 21 John Isner, of Greensboro, N.C.; No. 24 Taylor Fritz, of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.; No. 39 Reilly Opelka, of Delray Beach, Fla.; No. 45 Sam Querrey, of Las Vegas; No. 55 Tennys Sandgren, of Gallatin, Tenn.; No. 57 Tommy Paul, of Delray Beach, Fla.; No. 63 Steve Johnson, of Redondo Beach, Calif.; No. 81 Frances Tiafoe, of Hyattsville, Md.; No. 83 Mackenzie McDonald, of Orlando, Fla.; No. 102 Marcos Giron, of Thousand Oaks, Calif.; No. 111 Denis Kudla, of Arlington, Va.; No. 119 Jack Sock, of Kansas City, Mo.; and No. 126 Bradley Klahn, of Los Angeles.

The Big Three of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have won 13 consecutive major titles dating to the 2016 U.S. Open (Stan Wawrinka).

Djokovic, 33, was filmed training on hardcourts in Serbia and had said he would play the U.S. Open if he can skip the quarantine upon his return to Europe.

Djokovic was spotted in Spain recently without a mask even after he received criticism for his ill-fated Adria Tour on which four players, including Djokovic and Thiem, tested positive for the virus. Both have since recovered.

“It was obviously a mistake,” Thiem said on CNN Sport of the lack of social distancing and the partying that went on during the Adria Tour.

“Everybody that tested positive is healthy again. I think everybody learned from that mistake….It was a mistake. Everybody regrets it of course but it’s time to look in the future.”

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