The Big Three will be represented at the U.S. Open, after all: Novak Djokovic announced Thursday he will enter the Grand Slam tournament and the hard-court tuneup preceding it in New York.
Djokovic initially complained about the U.S. Tennis Association’s plans to try to protect people from the coronavirus pandemic with such measures as limiting the size of players’ entourages, going so far as to say he didn’t know whether he would participate.
“It was not an easy decision to make with all the obstacles and challenges on many sides,” said the No. 1-ranked Djokovic, who tested positive for COVID-19 in June, “but the prospect of competing again makes me really excited.”
The U.S. Open is scheduled to begin Aug. 31, without spectators. Before that, the Western & Southern Open – normally held in Cincinnati – will be played at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, starting Aug 22.
Djokovic has won three of his 17 Grand Slam titles at the U.S. Open and was the runner-up there five times. By playing this year, he will have a chance to narrow the gap between him and the only two men with more major trophies: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Federer, who has won 20 Slam championships, is sidelined for the rest of 2020 after having two operations on his right knee. Nadal, who owns 19 major titles and is the reigning champion in New York, said he was pulling out of the U.S. Open because of concerns about traveling amid the pandemic.
Other players who have said they won’t play at the U.S. Open include the top-ranked woman, Ash Barty, and past men’s champion Stan Wawrinka.
Fiona Ferro – who won the first tournament when tour play resumed, last week at Palermo, Italy – withdrew Thursday, citing a rib injury. That allowed Caroline Dolehide to move into the main draw in New York and relinquish her wild card, which the USTA gave another American, Claire Liu.
Djokovic was one of several people – including his wife; one of his coaches, Goran Ivanisevic; and other players – who got the coronavirus during an exhibition tour he organized in Serbia and Croatia while the professional tennis tours were suspended.
At the exhibitions, which Djokovic said raised money for those affected by the pandemic, the stands were packed and players casually interacted with fans and each other off the court. The tour eventually was shut down.
Earlier, when he was staying in Spain in May, Djokovic broke local lockdown rules by practicing at a tennis club about a week before it was allowed.
“I am aware that this time around it will be very different with all the protocols and safety measures that are put in place to protect players and people of NY,” Djokovic said in a statement issued Thursday. “Nevertheless, I have trained hard with my team and got my body in shape so I am ready to adapt to new conditions. I’ve done all the checkups to make sure I am fully recovered and I am ready to get back on court fully committed to playing my best tennis.”
He is 18-0 this season, including a victory at the Australian Open in February. That’s the only Grand Slam tournament that’s been completed this year so far, because the French Open was postponed in May – it now will begin Sept. 27, two weeks after the U.S. Open is to end – and Wimbledon was canceled for the first time in 75 years.