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Will US Open Withdrawals Dampen Achievement of Winners?

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Bianca Andreescu kisses the US Open trophy. Photo: AP

By Michael Pavitt |

Canada’s Bianca Andreescu yesterday became the latest high-profile player to announce she would not compete at the US Open in New York City, with her absence meaning that the tournament will begin without both its reigning men’s and women’s singles champions for the first time since 2003.

On that occasion, men’s defending champion Pete Sampras had retired from the sport, while Serena Williams had been forced to withdraw due to injury.

The previous time the situation occurred was in 1971, with the Australian duo Ken Rosewall and Margaret Court not returning to defend their crowns.

Rosewall was among several top men’s players to boycott the tournament amid an ongoing conflict between the International Lawn Tennis Federation and World Championship Tennis.

Court’s reasons were very different, as she took a break from the game after that year’s Wimbledon prior to the birth of her first child in March 1972.

The absence of both last year’s defending champions, Spain’s Rafael Nadal and Andreescu is yet another sign – not that anyone needs telling – that 2020 is a very rare year.

Unsurprising the coronavirus pandemic was cited among the reasons for both player’s decisions not to mount a title defense when the tournament is due to begin behind closed doors on August 31.

Andreescu revealed on Instagram that she had “made the difficult decision not to return to New York this year”, citing “unforeseen challenges”, including the coronavirus pandemic which have hampered the preparations of the 20-year-old from Mississauga.

This has included a lack of match fitness, with the Canadian’s last appearance on the circuit coming at the WTA Finals last October, where she suffered a knee injury.

Andreescu was the fourth player in the women’s top 10 to withdraw from the event, following world number one Ashleigh Barty from Australia, Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina and The Netherlands’ Kiki Bertens.

Nadal was among the first group of players to announce their withdrawal from the US Open, with the Spanish star offering thanks to organisers for their efforts to ensure the event could take place.

“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 when announcing his withdrawal last week.

“We know that the reduced tennis calendar is barbaric this year after four months stopped with no play, I understand and thank for the efforts they are putting in to make it happen. All my respects to the USTA (United States Tennis Association), the US Open organisers and the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) for trying to put the event together for the players and the fans around the world through TV.”

Absences of top players are not something new, with numerous Grand Slams having been held with defending champions and stars such as Nadal, Roger Federer and Serena Williams over the years.

Whether that is related to injury, prioritising other tournaments or life-changing events, such as pregnancies.

The large number of absentees for the upcoming US Open does pose the question about how this year’s event will be remembered and how the eventual champion’s achievements will be viewed.

An ongoing poll on insidethegames has asked readers whether the withdrawal of players from the US Open has lessened the credibility of the event?

Currently 66 percent have suggested the credibility of the event would be impacted due to the list of absentees.

The view is understandable, as much as it would be a shame for US Open organisers who have been seeking to put the event on in extraordinary circumstances, with players entering a bubble and no spectators permitted.

I wonder whether some may be tempted to place an asterisk around the tournament due to the withdrawals.

With world number one Novak Djokovic confirmed as attending, the Serbian star will be considered the clear favourite in the men’s singles competition with both Nadal and Federer absent, albeit the latter through injury rather than the pandemic.

Should Djokovic win the tournament for the fourth time in his career, he would move to two Grand Slam titles from Federer’s record of 20 and just one behind Nadal’s total of 19. While I am sure it would not bother Djokovic in the slightest, I could imagine some of his detractors pointing to the unusual circumstances in the ongoing Twitter “Greatest Of All Time” debate.

One of the sport’s main storylines has also surrounded another “GOAT” in recent times, with Serena Williams seeking to tie Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles.

The absence of defending champion Andreescu and world number one Barty undoubtedly would seem like a boost to Williams’ chances of achieving the feat, but could there be an anti-climax if such an historic accomplishment was achieved amid a series of withdrawals.

Alternatively, perhaps this is examining the situation from a short-term viewpoint and that long-term the circumstances surrounding the tournament will not be considered when achievements of the players at the tournament are considered.

Given the number of tournaments that have been cancelled this year, we should just be thankful if the US Open can be held without issues.

Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.

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