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Virus fears force Murray out of Delray

Andy Murray has pulled out of the season-opening Delray Beach Open in Florida next week to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19 ahead of the Australian Open in February.

Murray, who missed most of the 2020 season due to complications with his hip and struggled for form on his return after the COVID-19 hiatus, accepted a wildcard for the January 7-13 ATP 250 tournament last week.

The tournament serves as a warm-up for the Australian Open in Melbourne, which will begin three weeks later than scheduled on February 8 due to COVID-19 health and safety measures.

“After much deliberation with my team I’ve decided not to travel to play in Delray Beach,” Murray, 33, said on Thursday.

“Given the increase in COVID rates and the transatlantic flights involved, I want to minimise the risks ahead of the Australian Open.”

Murray, a former world No.1 and three-times grand slam champion, underwent hip resurfacing surgery in January last year and has slipped to 122nd in the rankings after playing only seven matches this year.

Meanwhile, the virus is impacting heavily on the NFL with Cleveland ending 2020 without practising for their first game in 2021, placing the Browns’ playoff hopes in peril.

The virus intensified for Cleveland on Thursday as top cornerback Denzel Ward and linebacker Malcolm Smith tested positive and were ruled out for Sunday’s game.

The team also cancelled practice as they prepare to face the Pittsburgh Steelers – with a playoff spot up for grabs.

The latest positive tests forced the Browns to initially close their facility to do close contact tracing.

However, after consulting with the NFL, the team decided to call off practice days before their biggest game in years for “the health and well-being of our players, coaches and staff.”

Despite the new cases, Sunday’s game at Cleveland’s FirstEnergy Stadium remains on schedule, according to an NFL spokesman. The league is closely monitoring the Browns’ situation and overseeing standard contact tracing.

The Browns aren’t the only team wrestling the virus in the last week of the regular season:

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who came off the bench to rescue the Miami Dolphins last week, will miss Sunday’s regular-season finale at Buffalo as Miami try to clinch a wild-card berth.

Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Michael Brockers was placed on the COVID-19 reserve list, joining receiver Cooper Kupp ahead of the Rams’ season finale against Arizona. Cardinals safety Chris Banjo will not play Sunday after being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

The Atlanta Falcons will be without centre Alex Mack. He went on the COVID-19 list after the team stopped all in-person work at their practice facility on Thursday.

For the Browns, Ward’s surprising addition to the COVID-19 list has further impacted preparations for Pittsburgh. If they win, the Browns (10-5) will make the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and end the NFL’s longest current playoff drought.

But they’ll have to do it without three defensive starters: Ward, their best defensive back; linebacker BJ Goodson, the defensive signal caller; and safety Andrew Sendejo.

And with kickoff a few days away and the virus seemingly not under control, it’s possible Cleveland could be down more players.

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