Novak Djokovic has decided to travel to New York for the US Open amid the COVID-19 pandemic because the 17-times grand slam champion did not want to pass up on the opportunity to close in on Roger Federer’s record tally of 20.
Djokovic says he is happy to have rented a house in the New York suburbs rather than going into coronavirus-secure hotels for the US Open.
The world No.1 felt the hotels would be too suffocating and he battled with organisers to be allowed to stay elsewhere – even though he has had to pay for security to show he is not breaking the rules.
“With the trees and serenity, being in this kind of environment is a blessing,” Djokovic told the New York Times on Thursday ahead of the Western and Southern warm-up event starting on Saturday.
Djokovic contracted COVID-19 during his Adria Tour exhibition tournament in June.
He was heavily criticised for the event but says it has become a “witch hunt”.
“We tried to do something with the right intentions,” Djokovic said.
“Yes, there were some steps that could have been done differently…but if I had the chance to do the Adria Tour again, I would do it again.”
“I cannot say it’s the main reason why I’m here, but it’s one of the reasons,” Djokovic told The New York Times.
“One of the reasons why I keep on playing professional tennis on this level is because I want to reach more heights in the tennis world.”
Men’s tennis top major winners
Roger Federer (SWI) — 20
Rafael Nadal (SPA) — 19
Novak Djokovic (SER) — 17
Pete Sampras (US) — 14
Roy Emerson (AUS) — 12
Bjorn Borg (SWE) — 11
Rod Laver (AUS) — 11
This will be the first grand slam Djokovic has played without both of his famous contemporaries, Federer and Nadal.
“It is strange, because these two guys are the legends of our sport and with or without crowds, they are going to be missed a lot,” he said.
Djokovic also told the newspaper that he came very close to skipping the tournament as well.
“I have to think about myself and my health and my fitness and whether my team is OK to be here.
“Once that was checked, then I, of course, also felt responsible as a top player to be here, it’s important for our sport to keep going.
“I want to play … That’s why I’m here.
“I’m personally not afraid of being in a risky, dangerous health situation for myself. If I felt that way, I most likely would not be here.”
The US Open begins without fans on August 31 at the same Flushing Meadows venue.
“And I’m grateful, because I’ve seen the hotel where the majority of players are staying. I don’t want to sound arrogant… but it’s tough for most of the players, not being able to open their window and being in a hotel in a small room.”
US Open champion Rafa Nadal has opted not to fly to the US because of the pandemic and is instead preparing for the rearranged French Open from September 27.
Federer is injured, leaving Djokovic as the star attraction, which he says was part of his decision to come.
“I was very close to not coming,” he said. “There were a lot of uncertainties.
“I of course also felt responsible as a top player to be here. It’s important for our sport to keep going.”
Djokovic will first play in the Western and Southern Open, a warm-up tournament that began in New York on Thursday, before the US Open begins on August 31.
Nick Kyrgios and Ash Barty are among the Australian players who have announced they will miss the tournament at Flushing Meadows for safety reasons.
The US Open is usually the last major tournament of the year, but in 2020 it will be followed by the French Open, which was rescheduled because of the coronavirus shutdown.
The French Open will be held at Roland Garros from September 27 to October 11.