NEW YORK • US Open title holder Rafael Nadal believes this year's champion will still feel like a Grand Slam winner despite the tournament losing some glamour owing to the withdrawal of top players amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the Spaniard said yesterday.
"The tournament is still big, it's a Grand Slam," he told reporters during a video conference from Spain. "I am not that kind of a person, I am not that arrogant to say that the tournament is not big enough because I'm not playing."
On Tuesday, one day after the entry deadline, he announced that he was pulling out of the tournament because of his concerns about travelling during the coronavirus pandemic.
With 19 Grand Slam singles titles, the world No. 2 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 is scheduled to start on Sept 27 - just two weeks after the US men's final.
"Rafa is one of the greatest champions in the history of our sport, and we support this decision," said Stacey Allaster, the US Open tournament director. "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, even though he is skipping this year's event.
He said he still intends to play at the French Open and remains hopeful it will go ahead. "I trust it will yes, it is in my mind and I am preparing for it," the 34-year-old said in the briefing with international media yesterday.
"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."
He will not be the only player watching the US Open from afar. So will fourth-ranked Federer, who has announced he will not play again this year due to knee surgery.
The vast majority of leading players are, at least for now, still entered, including Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Karolina Pliskova, Sofia Kenin, Bianca Andreescu, the reigning women's champion, and world No. 1 Novak Djokovic. But the top-ranked woman Ashleigh Barty has withdrawn.
The United States Tennis Association laid out key elements of its safety plan in an update sent to players, explaining that if a player leaves the tournament bubble without written permission, then the player will be removed and fined an unspecified amount.
If a coach or other member of a player's entourage leaves the bubble, their credential will be revoked, and the said person will be required to leave the tournament hotel within 24 hours.
He or she would also be fined and prohibited from receiving a credential to next year's US Open.
REUTERS, NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE