Defending champion Rafael Nadal pulls out of US Open amid pandemic

Spaniard announces he doesn't want to travel

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Defending champion Rafael Nadal has pulled out of the US Open because of the coronavirus pandemic, putting on hold his bid to equal Roger Federer’s record for Grand Slam titles.

Nadal explained his decision in a series of tweets sent in Spanish and English.

“The situation is very complicated worldwide, the Covid-19 cases are increasing, it looks like we still don’t have control of it,” Nadal wrote.

The 34-year-old Spaniard called sitting out the tournament scheduled to begin August 31 in New York “a decision I never wanted to take,” but added that he would “rather not travel”.

“Rafa is one of the greatest champions in our sport and we support his decision," US Open tournament director Stacey Allaster said.

The current No 1-ranked woman, Ashleigh Barty, already had announced she would be missing the tournament.

The professional tennis tours have been on hold since March because of the Covid-19 outbreak, with play resuming for women on Monday in Palermo, Italy. The first men’s event on the main tour is scheduled to be held later this month.

Nadal's announcement came shortly after the Madrid Open, scheduled for September, was cancelled because of the pandemic.

“We know that the reduced tennis calendar is barbaric this year after 4 months stopped with no play,” Nadal wrote on Twitter. “I understand and thank for the efforts they are putting in to make it happen.”

In last year’s final at Flushing Meadows, Nadal edged past Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4 in 4 hours, 50 minutes. That gave Nadal four US Open titles and a total of 19 across all the Grand Slam tournaments, just one away from Federer’s mark.

Federer will also be absent from the US Open because of two operations on his right knee.

The last Grand Slam tournament contested without either Federer or Nadal was the 1999 US Open - four years before Nadal made his debut at one of the sport’s four most prestigious events.

The USTA has given repeated indications it intends to go forward with the event despite the spikes in cases around the United States, saying in a news release last week: “New York State continues to be one of the safest places in the country as it relates to the Covid-19 virus."