‘Excited’ Djokovic confirms US Open participation

Djokovic’s participation is a big relief for organisers after a long list of players decided to skip tournament. (AP pic)

PARIS: Novak Djokovic confirmed on Thursday he will play at the US Open, the world No 1 ending speculation about his presence at the first Grand Slam tournament since the season restarted following the coronavirus-enforced shutdown.

“I’m happy to confirm that I’ll participate at #CincyTennis and #USOpen this year,” the 33-year-old world No 1 tweeted.

“It was not an easy decision to make with all the obstacles and challenges on many sides, but the prospect of competing again makes me really excited,” added the 17-time Grand Slam champion.

The US Open gets underway behind closed doors in New York on Aug 31, with Djokovic arriving in the US on Saturday to tune up in the Western and Southern Open, which is normally played in Cincinnati but has been moved to New York this year.

His decision to take part is a major boost for the US Open after a host of headline names pulled out.

The list of absentees includes four-time champion Rafael Nadal, women’s world No 1 Ashleigh Barty and her fellow Australian Nick Kyrgios.

Five-time winner Roger Federer is also missing as the Swiss legend recovers from knee surgery.

Former champions Stan Wawrinka and Svetlana Kuznetsova are also notable absentees.

Djokovic makes his competitive return after being heavily criticised for hosting a charity tennis event in the Balkans in June at which he and a raft of players tested positive for Covid-19.

Kyrgios was among those to serve up verbal volleys, describing Djokovic’s decision to put on the ill-fated Adria Tour as “boneheaded”.

Djokovic, president of the ATP Player Council, said he was “so deeply sorry” that the event “caused harm”, but described the level of criticism as “like a witch hunt”.

Confirmation that he will bid for a fourth US Open title came after he initially expressed scepticism over strict protocols, describing limits on players’ entourages at the tournament as “extreme” and “impossible”.

In a statement on his website on Friday he wrote: “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.

“Nevertheless, I have trained hard with my team and got my body in shape so I am ready to adapt to new conditions.”

He said he had completed “all the check-ups”, was fully recovered from coronavirus and was “ready to get back on court fully committed to playing my best tennis”.

The winner of a record eighth Australian Open before the season went into lockdown said he respected and appreciated the “time, effort, and energy” taken to put on the two events which are being staged in a quarantine environment without spectators at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows.

He had expressed hope that the existing ban on South American players travelling to compete would be eased before the US Open began.

“Unfortunately for the players and the game itself, the current situation is not allowing everyone to travel and compete at the same level of risk, and I hope the situation will change soon and we will all be back to doing what we love and do best.”

The US Open, which finishes on Sept 13, is followed a fortnight later by the rescheduled French Open at Roland Garros.

Later Thursday, France’s world No 44 Fiona Ferro, who won the Palermo WTA event last week, announced she would not play the US Open.

She is the 10th player from the women’s top 50 to withdraw.

Her place in the draw goes to Caroline Dolehide of the US.