Yesterday, defending champion Rafael Nadal withdrew from the 2020 US Open, citing concerns over the coronavirus, the latest in a long line of stars to make the tough call. For India's Sumit Nagal, ranked 127 in the world, it wasn't much of a dilemma. He knew if he was lucky enough to get into the US Open main draw there was only thing to do -- play. And he will.
In the entries list released on Tuesday, Nagal features as the lone Indian and the last player inside the men's singles main draw, scheduled to run from August 31-September 13. It will be his second appearance in a Grand Slam main draw, after he took a set off Roger Federer on debut in the first round of last year's US Open.
"I had a feeling I would make it [to the main draw] since I knew some players wouldn't be OK playing," Nagal tells ESPN, "I think there is a good chance though that the tournament may be cancelled."
The concern is real. The US is the worst hit country by the pandemic, with over 4.7 million cases and more than 150,000 deaths. If the tournament does go ahead, travel to and from the country could be challenging. "Traveling is definitely tough at this point and more so since it's the US but sometimes you gotta do things you are not comfortable with... I've got three weeks to figure out the logistics, so hopefully, something should pop up. If I don't play, I don't have any money. So either I take a risk and play, or stay home and risk the income. I don't have a choice."
It will be the first Grand Slam to be played following the coronavirus pandemic, and the first time since the 1999 US Open that either Roger Federer or Nadal won't be part of a Grand Slam main draw.
Players have been seeking an assurance of not having to undergo mandatory quarantine on their return to Europe after the tournament, which would rule them out from events in the weeks that follow.
This year's tournament will be vastly different since it will be held behind closed doors for the first time in history of Grand Slams. Organisers USTA will be setting up a bio-security bubble to minimize the virus threat. There will be no qualifying rounds in the singles events and the doubles draw has been shrunk from 64 to 32. In order to stage a truncated tournament, USTA also decided to exclude mixed doubles, juniors and wheelchair events this time.
Nagal, who trains at the Nensel academy in Germany, won the PSD Bank Nord Open, a locally organised clay court tournament in Pinneberg, last month. "Recently I took a week off for the first time in my career perhaps and got to see a bit of Europe. I'm back to training again and looking to play a few Challenger matches in Prague before I head to USA." The clay court event in the Czech capital from August 17-23 will kick off a four-week swing, marking the restart of the Challenger Tour.