The absence of six top-10 female players at the upcoming US Open will increase chances of those choosing to brave an appearance in New York, but whoever emerges victorious will pick up a title tarnished by so many withdrawals.
The 2020 US Open will not only be held under an unusual format due to Covid-19 restrictions – it will also lack some leading contenders for the title at Flushing Meadows.
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Six out of 10 top-ranked female players have already withdrawn from the tournament, citing coronavirus concerns and significantly reducing the intrigue in the women’s draw.
On Monday, world number two Simona Halep became the latest of the growing list of players who have opted out of this month’s Grand Slam tournament in New York, joining fellow absentees including the top-ranked Ashleigh Barty, Ukrainian star Elina Svitolina, Dutch world number seven Kiki Bertens, Swiss world number eight Belinda Bencic, and reigning US Open champion Bianca Andreescu of Canada.
Their withdrawal could potentially pave the way for those still in the draw, including the likes of 2018 champion Naomi Osaka and six-time winner Serena Williams – who will resume her quest for a record-equaling 24th Grand Slam, something which has evaded her during her last four major finals.
Despite predictions from the likes of Pam Schriver that Williams may feel less pressure without fans – who will not be allowed to attend the tournament as part of the coronavirus restrictions – her physical shape appears far from perfect with less than two weeks left before the major.
Williams’ latest appearance at the Top Seed Open in Lexington raised concerns about her readiness to vie for the US Open crown as she was knocked out in the third round by relative unknown Shelby Rogers, ranked fully 107 places below her.
Her unexpected loss has cast doubts on Williams’ prospects of winning the title even in the absence of the numerous dangerous opponents who will skip the event.
But whether it is Williams who mounts a challenge at Flushing Meadows or any other of the contenders in New York, this is an event which will not – and should – be treated as a normal triumph to compare with those in years gone by, given the absence of so many of the top names in the women’s game through choice rather than injury.
With every new star who pulls out of the competition, the fight for the upcoming Grand Slam becomes less and less intriguing, and carries less and less sporting integrity.
By Elena Dilber