Defending champion Rafael Nadal will sit out the U.S. Open this year due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, he wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.
"After many thoughts I have decided not to play this year’s US Open. The situation is very complicated worldwide, the COVID-19 cases are increasing, it looks like we still don’t have control of it," Nadal tweeted in both Spanish and English.
"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," wrote Nadal, 34.
Nadal's decision not to compete at the Open, scheduled to begin Aug. 31 in New York, will delay his chance to match Roger Federer’s men’s record for Grand Slam titles.
Nadal, from Spain, edged Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4 in 4 hours, 50 minutes at last year's nail-biting U.S. Open final. That gave Nadal four titles at the U.S. Open and a total of 19 across all the Grand Slam tournaments, just one away from Federer’s career mark.
Federer will be absent from the U.S. Open this year also due to two operations on his right knee.
The last Grand Slam tournament contested without either Federer or Nadal was the 1999 U.S. Open — four years before Nadal made his debut at one of the sport’s four most prestigious events.
In June, the USTA announced that the U.S. Open would go forward at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, Queens, but that the part-sporting, part-social event would be absent of fans.
The Western & Southern Open, a hard-court tournament normally played near Cincinnati, will also be played at the U.S. Open site this year, from Aug. 20-28, in an effort to minimize players' travel.
Last week, the USTA stood firm on its plan. "We remain confident that our top priority, the health and safety of all involved in both tournaments, remains on track," the association said in a statement. “New York State continues to be one of the safest places in the country as it relates to the COVID-19 virus.”
While cases soar in other parts of the country, New York has seen a huge dip. But the state was such a hotspot early on in the pandemic that part of Billie Jean King National Tennis Center was converted to a hospital to treat coronavirus patients as hospital beds filled at an alarming rate.
Two weeks after the U.S. Open closes on Sept. 13, the French Open is scheduled to begin in Paris, having been postponed from its usual May start. The Madrid Open, also scheduled for September, has been cancelled.
"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," Nadal said. "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."
The U.S. Open's tournament director, Stacey Allaster, said officials support Nadal's decision. “I know our fans will be disappointed to not have Rafa playing this year’s Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open,” Allaster said. “However, for the fans and and the sport, we look forward to being inspired by him when he decides he’s ready to play.”
The current No. 1-ranked woman, Ash Barty, will also be missing the U.S. Open. But 2019 women’s champion Bianca Andreescu is in the field.
Professional tours have been on hiatus since March. Women's play will resume on Monday in Palermo, Italy. The first men’s event on the main tour is scheduled to be held later this month.