The odds on Rafael Nadal showing up to defend his title at next month’s US Open grew much longer on Wednesday when Nadal confirmed that he will play in the rescheduled Madrid Masters event on clay. This starts on Sunday September 13, the same day as the US Open final.
Even though Nadal would not have to start his campaign in Madrid until the Tuesday or even the Wednesday, it would still be a big ask to switch from hard courts to clay in such a short time. On top of that, it is possible that players could be required to quarantine themselves after returning from the USA.
Should Nadal not travel to New York, he would be the first male to voluntarily concede a grand-slam title without defending it since Pete Sampras retired after winning the 2002 US Open. Among the women, Marion Bartoli also retired after winning Wimbledon in 2013.
Another factor for Nadal to chew over is a new wrinkle in the ATP rankings, introduced to protect players from being unfairly affected by the pandemic. You can now use your best 18 results over a 22-month period, rather than the usual 12 months. But you can only use the same tournament once.
In other words, Nadal’s world ranking would not be affected by declining to play in New York, as he could still fall back on the maximum 2,000 points that he won last year. He would, however, be missing out on a potential £3 million in prize money.
As for the title itself, Nadal stands on 19 majors, one short of Roger Federer – who has already announced that he will not play again this season after undergoing a second bout of keyhole surgery on his troublesome right knee. Novak Djokovic stands on 17.
Although Nadal would be passing up the chance to equal Federer by skipping the US Open, he would also be improving his chances of winning a 13th French Open at Roland Garros, in a rescheduled event that is intended to begin on September 27.
The US Open has already confirmed at least one star participant, after Serena Williams appeared as part of the tournament’s curtain-raising video conference on June 17. Increasingly, however, the ongoing outbreaks of Covid-19 around the USA are raising questions about whether the planned American swing – which is supposed to begin in Washington on August 14 – can actually take place.
New York is one of the less badly affected areas at the moment, but it is still recording around 500 new cases per day. There are also new quarantine measures being applied to people coming into New York State from certain other Covid-heavy areas within the same country.
While promoting his new shoe on Monday, Federer raised the possibility that the whole thing could be called off. “I was in touch with the US Open [organisers] just yesterday,” he said. “They told me they will decide between 15-30 July about what will happen… These are uncertain times for tennis. Travelling and quarantine are big problems.”