SYDNEY • World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty pulled out of the US Open yesterday over fears about the coronavirus pandemic in a major blow for the Grand Slam which is scheduled to start in New York on Aug 31.
The Australian is the biggest name so far to withdraw from the tournament, with her decision coming as the United States marked a grim milestone when its Covid-19 deaths topped 150,000.
The last time the US Open began without the top women's singles player was 2010, when Serena Williams withdrew because of injury.
"My team and I have decided that we won't be travelling to the US for the Western and Southern Open and the US Open this year," Barty told Australian media.
"I love both events so it was a difficult decision but there are still significant risks involved due to Covid-19 and I don't feel comfortable putting my team and I in that position."
The 24-year-old last month expressed concerns about the US Open going ahead, and she won plenty of support on social media yesterday for her "sensible" decision to give it a miss.
Barty, who reached the fourth round of the US Open in the last two years, said she would continue to monitor the situation before deciding whether to travel to Europe to prepare for a defence of her French Open crown.
Barty was one of several leading players not on the entry list on Wednesday for the ATP and WTA Western and Southern Open from Aug 20-28, a tune-up event for the US Open set in a quarantine environment without spectators at Flushing Meadows.
Others missing included world No. 2 Simona Halep of Romania, the reigning Wimbledon champion, fifth-ranked Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, and last year's US Open champion, Canada's sixth-ranked Bianca Andreescu.
Whether they play the US Open remains to be seen.
In contrast, top-ranked Novak Djokovic, the reigning Wimbledon and Australian Open champion, and world No. 2 Rafael Nadal, the current US Open champion, were among the men's entries, signalling their likely intent to play the Grand Slam. Also on the list was Barty's compatriot Nick Kyrgios, who last month blasted the ATP as "selfish" for pressing ahead with plans for the US Open.
Australia's restrictions on international travel have been a concern, with Australian citizens requiring an exemption to leave the country and then being required to quarantine for 14 days upon returning.
A TRICKY SITUATION
Now I see that the situation in New York is getting better, much better. But at the same time I think it's very much about travel restrictions... You can't have a Grand Slam which is the National US championships, right?
PATRICK MOURATOGLOU, coach of Serena Williams, on the need for the US Open to address international players' health concerns.
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Frenchman Patrick Mouratoglou, the long-time coach of Williams, believes the US Open must not turn into a national championships and organisers need to address players' health concerns by next week.
New York reported less than 5,000 new coronavirus cases last week, an improvement since spiking in March and April while areas such as Florida, Texas and California have become hotspots.
"Now I see that the situation in New York is getting better, much better," Mouratoglou said. "But at the same time I think it's very much about travel restrictions...
"What about the South Americans? Are they now allowed to travel or not? What about the Australians?
"You can't have a Grand Slam which is the National US championships, right? So, we have to know."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS