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.”
Because of temporary changes to the ranking system, Nadal will still be able to count the points from winning last year’s U.S. Open even though he is skipping this year’s event. He did not specify on Tuesday whether he would play in this year’s French Open, but he had already committed to playing at least some of the clay-court season when he announced he would play at the Madrid Open the week after the U.S. Open.
But 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 that event was called off on the eve of the qualifying tournament. He traveled back to his base in Majorca, where he went through lockdown before returning to train at the tennis academy he started in Manacor, his home city.
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 and 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 he would not play again in 2020 as he recovered from his latest knee surgery. The last Grand Slam tournament without Federer and Nadal was the 1999 U.S. Open, where Federer, then 18, was eliminated in qualifying. The Open remains the only Grand Slam tournament where Federer and Nadal have not played each other.
Ashleigh Barty, the No. 1 women’s player, announced last week from her home in Australia that she was withdrawing from the Open because of concerns about travel and the health risks for some of her team members.
But the vast majority of leading players are, at least for now, still entered, 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.
But as Alexander Zverev pointed out last week, players are closely monitoring the health situation in New York and the travel situation internationally.
The U.S.T.A. laid out key elements of its plan on Tuesday in an update sent to players, explaining that if a player leaves the tournament “bubble” without written permission from Allaster or the tournament’s chief medical officer, the player will be removed from the event and fined an unspecified amount. If a coach or other guest of a player leaves the bubble, that credential will be revoked, and the coach or guest will be required to leave the tournament hotel within 24 hours. The coach or guest would also be fined and prohibited from receiving a credential to the 2021 U.S. Open, the U.S.T.A. said.
Several leading players, including the former U.S. Open champion Andy Murray, have lobbied recently for strong penalties for those who break health and safety protocols.
Players staying in private housing instead of an official hotel must rent through the U.S.T.A. and abide by a safety plan. Players must pay all costs for 24-hour security that is approved, and capable of being monitored, by the U.S.T.A. Players in private housing are not permitted to stay with or receive visits from individuals who are not part of the officially approved entourage that is being tested by the U.S.T.A. for the virus.
Each player is allowed to come with a maximum of three accredited guests or team members: up from one in the initial planning, which was a proposal that Djokovic criticized. But only one of those guests will be allowed access to competition areas, locker rooms, player dining and lounges.
Locker rooms will be limited to 30 players at a time, with players encouraged to leave as soon as possible. In the absence of spectators, new outdoor fitness areas and outdoor lounge spaces are being created on-site.
Players and their guests will be tested twice for the virus once they arrive, about 48 hours apart, and antibody tests will also be encouraged. Those who test positive for antibodies will be tested for the virus less frequently during the tournament.
Those who test positive during the tournament will be withdrawn automatically and isolated for 10 days. Players who test positive upon arrival could still compete if they received medical clearance after the necessary isolation. If a player is sharing a hotel room with a guest and that guest tests positive during the event, the player will be automatically withdrawn.
Players arriving from outside the United States will not face an additional quarantine requirement upon arrival in New York, according to the U.S.T.A. But it is still unclear whether players or their team members will face quarantine if they travel on to Europe for the clay-court season, although the U.S.T.A. said it was making “positive progress” on that front.