Novak Djokovic insists his decision to fly to New York to participate in the relocated Cincinnati tournament and the US Open had nothing to do with the withdrawal of last year’s champion Rafael Nadal.
Djokovic is the top seed of the Western & Southern Open, which begins on Saturday at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York instead of its usual host venue in Cincinnati, signalling the end of a five-month coronavirus-enforced hiatus of the men’s tennis tour.
The Serb will then headline next week’s US Open, where he’ll be competing in a grand slam in the absence of both Nadal and Roger Federer – his two biggest rivals – for the first time in his career.
Victory in the Big Apple would give the 33-year-old an 18th major title and put him just one behind Nadal’s tally and two adrift of Federer’s all-time men’s record.
Djokovic was unsure whether he would make it to New York and says he only decided a week before he boarded his flight on August 15.
“I did not make my decision because Rafa pulled out, I mean if that’s what people want to hear,” Djokovic said on Friday.
He has a bye in the first round and faces either a qualifier or Tommy Paul in his Cincinnati opener.
“I made my decision already months ago to come to US Open and play here because I really wanted to restart on a hard court where I feel the most comfortable,” he said.
Four of the world’s top 11 ATP players will not be in New York, as well as three-time grand slam champion Stan Wawrinka, but Djokovic does not regard himself as the outright favourite for the US Open crown.
“Every grand slam I play is an opportunity to get a title. I know that. But I’m not the only one,” he said.
Meanwhile, Serena Williams, the No.3 seed of the Cincinnati women’s draw, is preparing to resume her quest for a record-equalling 24th grand slam title at Flushing Meadows and addressed the raging ‘asterisk debate’ in her press conference.
With six of the world’s top 10 women, and 14 of the world’s top 50, missing from the US Open, fans and pundits have questioned the legitimacy of this year’s tournament.
“It still has to be tennis that’s played, asterisks or not,” the 38-year-old Williams said.
“I think this whole year deserves an asterisk, because it’s such a special year, history we have never been through in this world, to be honest, not this generation, not this lifetime.
“It’s just in history, period.”