Ashleigh Barty, the top-ranked women’s singles player, has confirmed that she will not play in the United States Open because of concerns about traveling during the coronavirus pandemic.
Barty, 24, soared from outside the top 10 to No. 1 last year when she won the French Open and three other singles titles, including the WTA Finals in Shenzhen, China.
She has also confirmed that she will not play the Western & Southern Open, an event normally played near Cincinnati that has been moved to New York this year to be staged at the U.S.T.A. Billie Jean King National Tennis Center ahead of the U.S. Open.
The U.S. Open is still set to begin on Aug. 31. The last time the tournament was held without the top women’s singles player was 2010, when Serena Williams withdrew because of a foot injury.
“I love both events so it was a difficult decision,” Barty said in a statement sent to Australian media outlets on Thursday. “But there are still significant risks involved due to Covid-19, and I don’t feel comfortable putting my team and I in that position.”
Barty, who has been practicing in Brisbane in her native Australia, is the most prominent women’s player to withdraw from the U.S. Open, but she is unlikely to be the last, with No. 2 Simona Halep practicing on clay and committed to playing a clay-court event in Prague that begins on Aug. 10.
“I respect every player’s decision,” said Stacey Allaster, the U.S. Open tournament director, who has been pushing hard with her staff to salvage the tournament, which will be played without spectators and with extensive health precautions. “Ash made her decision on what she thinks is best for her and her team. We wish her well, and I am looking forward to seeing her return to play as she is a fan favorite.”
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Halep and three other members of the women’s top 10 — No. 5 Elina Svitolina, No. 6 Bianca Andreescu and No. 10 Naomi Osaka — also have not entered the Western & Southern Open, which starts Aug. 20.
Andreescu, a Canadian, is the reigning U.S. Open singles champion. Osaka, who represents Japan but has long lived in the United States, won the 2018 U.S. Open singles title and has become one of the sport’s biggest stars.
Their management teams did not respond to messages on Wednesday inquiring whether they planned to play in the U.S. Open.
Andreescu, 20, has not competed since last October after injuring her knee. She had hoped to return to play in the Miami Open in March, but that event was canceled because of the coronavirus. She initially committed publicly to defending her title at the U.S. Open.
In a normal season, players would pay a significant price in the rankings for skipping a Grand Slam event, but both the men’s and women’s tours have adjusted their rankings to allow players to count their best result at an event from 2019 or 2020. That means Andreescu will keep the 2,000 points she acquired from winning the U.S. Open last year regardless of whether she plays this year.
But Barty, who reached the fourth round of the U.S. Open in 2018 and 2019, has made it clear for months that she was uncertain about making the journey. Australia’s restrictions on international travel have also been a concern, with Australian citizens requiring an exemption to leave the country and then being required to quarantine for 14 days upon returning.
Barty would most likely qualify for an exemption and may still travel to Europe in September to play in clay-court events and defend her French Open title. The French Open is scheduled to begin Sept. 21.
“I will make my decision on the French Open and the surrounding WTA European tournaments in the coming weeks,” she said in her statement.