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'I'd rather not travel': Defending champion Rafael Nadal PULLS OUT of U.S. Open citing Covid-19 situation

'I'd rather not travel': Defending champion Rafael Nadal PULLS OUT of U.S. Open citing Covid-19 situation
Defending champion and world number two Rafael Nadal has confirmed he will not play at this year's U.S. Open, which is set to start at the end of August, citing the Covid-19 situation and saying he would "rather not travel."

Nadal had been widely rumored to be considering his participation at the Grand Slam, although he had been pictured back on court in recent weeks for his first serious tune-up sessions since the suspension of tennis at the start of the pandemic.

The four-time champion has now become the most high-profile figure in the men's game to pull out of the tournament, which has been given permission to go ahead despite more than 422,000 confirmed cases of the virus in New York and more than 32,000 deaths so far.

"After many thoughts, I have decided not to play this year’s US Open,", Nadal wrote 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."

The Spanish 19-time Grand Slam winner added: "We know that the reduced tennis calendar is barbaric this year after four months stopped with no play.

"I understand and thank [the tennis authorities] 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 U.S. Open organisers and the ATP for trying to put the event together for the players and the fans around the world through TV.

"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 [would] rather not travel." 

Nadal, 34, defeated Russia's Daniil Medvedev in a five-set thriller in last year's final at Flushing Meadows, and could have eyed the chance to equal Roger Federer's all-time haul of 20 Grand Slam titles in New York this year. 

However, his decision to skip the event means that, like Federer, he will also be absent when play begins on August 31.

The Swiss had already said he would miss the event and the rescheduled French Open in September to undergo knee surgery.

The U.S. Open will be the first Grand Slam to take place since the Covid-19 pandemic, and organizers have promised strict measures to ensure safety to the participants. No crowd will be in attendance for matches. 

Organizers confirmed that world number one and three-time winner Novak Djkovic would be among those playing, alongside last year's finalist Medvedev and fellow top 10 stars including Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev.

Twenty-three-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams was confirmed as part of the women's draw, as was defending champion Bianca Andreescu and former winner Naomi Osaka.

Current world number one Ashleigh Barty of Australia had already pulled out of the event over Covid-19 concerns.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo gave his public blessing on June 16 for the flagship US tennis event to go ahead, saying that he was "excited" to host the tournament as part of a relaxation of lockdown measures.

"It will be held without fans but you can watch it on TV — and I’ll take that,” he declared at a daily briefing.

“The tennis authorities are going to be taking extraordinary precautions, but that’s going to take place."

Those precautions are set to include player accommodation being provided for a maximum of two people, charter flights to bring stars to the tournament and the wearing of masks at US Open facilities.

Williams had suggested that the restrictions on entourages would be a consideration for her participation, as it would likely mean that she would have to spend weeks away from her young daughter.

Speaking before his Adria Tour events caused uproar when several participants tested positive for Covid-19 in the wake of social distancing measures not being observed, Djokovic had called the proposed US Open restrictions "extreme".

He claimed that "most of the players I have talked to" were "quite negative" on taking part, but now appears to have altered his approach after apologizing for the aftermath of his events in Croatia and Serbia.

Djokovic had hinted that he was targeting a return on clay courts in September, which is where Nadal could be plotting his comeback.

The rescheduled French Open, which Nadal won last year, is due to start on September 27.

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