WASHINGTON, June 4, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)
In an alternate universe, one free of a global health pandemic that has shutdown pro tennis since early March and the recent civil unrest permeating many U.S cities, Rafael Nadal would be gracing the red clay of Court Philippe Chatrier at Roland Garros this week, zooming in on winning a record-extending 13th French Open singles title.
Instead, the World No. 2 was at his uncle’s home in Mallorca, sharing a Zoom video press conference that lasted nearly an hour with international media on Thursday.
Nadal, who turned 34 on Wednesday, weighed in on a number of pertinent topics such as: the safety and health of the sport, whether he would play in the US Open if it is held, the challenge of travel and what kind of example tennis players can and should set for the rest of society.
🎵 Happy Birthday to you! 🎶 Happy Birthday yo you! 🎵 Happy birthday dear @RafaelNadal… Happy birthday to youu! 🎶
— Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar (@rnadalacademy) June 3, 2020
After all, when Nadal speaks, the world listens to what he has to say.
Among the takeaways from Nadal, he believes that the tennis tours – ATP, WTA and ITF – should not begin, again, until it is 100 percent safe and 100 percent fair, with all players, from all countries, able to play.
With all tour-level competitions off the schedule through at least the beginning of August, Nadal said he would not play in this year’s US Open in New York, scheduled for August 31 to September 13. Meanwhile, the French Open already postponed this year’s tournament from late May to a September 20 start date.
“Violence and pandemics like this today create a difficult climate, a difficult atmosphere for the world,” said Nadal.
“If you asked me today if I want to travel today to New York to play a tournament I would say, no, I will not,” he said. “But in a couple of months … hopefully, the situation is going to improve in the right way.
“And I’m sure that the people who are organizing the event, the USTA, want a safe event, the same as the FFT, they want to celebrate the tournament if everybody is safe enough. I am confident that they will make the right decisions in the right moment.”
Nadal, who has only begun practicing two weeks ago, suggests that pro tennis should take more time before resuming play – to get it right.
“If we are not able to organize a tournament safe enough and fair enough, and when I say fair enough, every player from every single part of the world needs to have the chance to play the tournament, we can’t play tennis, that’s my feeling,” said Nadal.
“The key is of course to find a medicine that helps us to be sure we can travel, we can compete, play tennis without being scared about having the virus and bringing the virus back home. The feeling is strange, I think the information is not 100 percent clear yet so my feeling is we need to wait a little bit more.”
Nadal, whose 19 career Grand Slam singles titles places him within one of tying Roger Federer’s 20 career majors, believes that tennis needs to be a positive example for society. “We need to be clear,” he said. “We need to be responsible, we need to (be) sending Instagram messages and we need to be a positive example for society. We need to understand that we are suffering an unprecedented situation and my feeling is we need to come back when all players from all countries of the world are able to travel under safe circumstances.
“If not, I would say in my personal opinion, we will come back, yes, and I will probably play, maybe yes, but my feeling will be we are not being 100 percent correct. I want to see my sport being 100 percent fair and correct, especially under these circumstances.”
While Nadal, who has lifted the Coupe des Mousquetaires three consecutive years and is the reigning US Open champion, doesn’t know if it will be possible for the pro tours to resume this year, he doesn’t seem too worried or concerned. “I don’t know if we will play tennis in 2020,” he said. “That does not really worry me too much. What worries me is to come back to normal life and comeback to the healthy life and healthy situation for most of the people.
“We need to be responsible.”