What Does Ashleigh Barty Withdrawing Mean for the US Open?

World #1 Ashleigh Barty has withdrawn from the US Open

The USTA deserve great credit for their efforts to put on the US Open, despite a few missteps along the way. But unfortunately for the tournament’s organisers, the US Open is looking increasingly precarious. Already, the ATP warm-up event in Washington D.C. has been cancelled due to travel restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic and the rise in cases across the United States. Now, WTA world #1 Ashleigh Barty has confirmed that she will not be taking part in the US Open.

That is understandable on the Australian’s part. Although there has been a concerning spike in cases in the state of Victoria, generally the pandemic remains under control in Australia, with only six deaths having been recorded in Barty’s native Queensland. In contrast, in the United States, the disease is continuing to spread at an alarming rate, with over 150,000 Americans having lost their lives since the pandemic reached the USA.

If Barty had wished to travel to take part in New York, she would have required special permission from the Australian government, as well as to quarantine for 14 days upon her return to Australia. Whilst that permission would most likely have been granted, it is nonetheless clearly a less than ideal situation for any sportsperson to have to face. Indeed, one suspects that she will not be the only player to decline to make the trip to New York.

Notably, Simona Halep, the world #2 and reigning Wimbledon champion, also looks extremely unlikely to be part of the field at the US Open. The Romanian has been training exclusively on clay courts over the past few weeks and has already withdrawn from the Palermo Ladies Open due to health concerns, with the number of cases in her home country on the rise. She also declined to take part in the 2016 Rio Olympics due to the spread of the Zika virus in Brazil at the time.

Bianca Andreescu, the defending champion at the US Open, and Naomi Osaka, who won the US Open in 2018, have also not yet confirmed whether they will be competing at this year’s event, although recent reports have suggested that the Japanese star is more likely to play than not. On the men’s side, meanwhile, Roger Federer is definitely out after undergoing a second knee surgery that has ruled him out of action until 2021 at the earliest.

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, who hold the top two spots in the ATP rankings, do appear to be intending to play in the States, however. Despite initially expressing serious doubts over whether or not it would be feasible and indeed wise to play in New York, both men are currently on the entry list for the Western and Southern Open, which has been moved from its traditional home in Ohio to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York.

If they do take part, it will be a major boost to the US Open, which will otherwise be seriously short of star power. The presence of the great Serena Williams, who is also on the entry lists, will also lend some much needed credibility to the tournament. But fears about what sort of spectacle the 2020 US Open will prove to be look likely to be well-founded, with the grounds set to be empty of fans and the draw missing many of the biggest names in the sport.

Still, it is almost certainly better than nothing and there are many on Tour for whom the US Open will provide a vital opportunity to earn some prize money after a lean year. That should not be forgotten. It looks certain to be some time before the world approaches anything like a return to normality and tennis, like every sport, is being forced to adapt to that. Indeed, it is a sport that has proven particularly vulnerable due to its globe-trotting calendar.

Nor should we lose perspective. A below-par field at the US Open would be amongst the least of the pandemic’s casualties, with so many having lost their lives or their livelihoods. But that does not mean that it is wrong to mourn what the US Open might have otherwise been. A packed Arthur Ashe stadium for a gripping night match under the floodlights is a special sight, with the city of New York lending its energy and its particular brand of glamour to the US Open for the two weeks that it plays host to the tournament.

It is a sight that will be sorely missed in 2020. As will the knifed backhand slices of Barty and the tireless determination of Halep. For all the wrong reasons, if the 2020 US Open does go ahead, it looks certain to be a tournament to remember and one we may well all end up hoping to forget.

*Editor’s note: Since this article was published, Naomi Osaka has announced her intention to play the Western and Southern Open and the US Open.

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