It looks like Rafael Nadal is returning to the court…
The 34-year-old Spanish tennis star and defending US Open champion appears on the acceptance list for the Western & Southern Open, which was released Wednesday, alongside world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
While Nadal and Djokovic’s appearance on the list doesn’t guarantee that they’ll end up competing in the top-tier Masters 1000 event starting August 20, the list does suggest that 16 of the ATP‘s top 20 players are prepared to participate in the reboot of the tour.
The Western & Southern, moved from its longtime home in Cincinnati, and the US Open comprise a two-tournament event that the USTA is planning to stage in a “safety bubble” being created around the National Tennis Center.
Players who choose not to play after they’ve appeared on the acceptance list are subject to the penalty of having a “zero-pointer” added to their rankings record, meaning that they are treated as if they had taken a first-round loss. The sting of that punitive measure has been greatly decreased by the ATP’s pandemic-driven move to a ranking based on a 22-month cycle rather than 12 months.
The rankings, frozen since the tour was suspended in mid-March, will resume with the Western & Southern. Since two editions of the event will be played during the new rankings cycle, only a player’s best result will count toward his ranking. A player who pulls out of Cincinnati can wipe out the zero-pointer at the 2021 tournament. The same goes for the US Open.
Djokovic, who tested positive for the coronavirus following the collapse of his own Adria Tour exhibition series in June, raised a number of objections when the USTA announced plans to forge ahead with a US Open played under the strict health protocols demanded by the COVID-19 outbreak. His stance has softened considerably since, and he has been observed practicing on hard courts for more than a week now.
“We are very glad that [the US Open] is happening,” Djokovic recently told Eurosport‘s Tennis Legends podcast. “It is very important that we provide opportunities, we provide jobs, for players to compete.”
Nadal is a greater question mark. He has said he is “not OK” with the USTA’s insistence that the American Grand Slam take place without fans in attendance.
The 12-time French Open champion has been practicing, but only on red clay. This year’s French Open will limit attendance when it starts Sept. 27.