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Novak Djokovic does U-turn and will play at the US Open tennis 2020

A man walks past a huge billboard depicting Djokovic in Belgrade, Serbia.

By Alix Ramsay

And in a shock development, Novak Djokovic has changed his mind. The world No.1 announced on Thursday that he would, indeed, be willing and able to play in the US Open and in the Western and Southern Open before it at the end of this month.

Was it only a few weeks ago that Djokovic was throwing out every hint possible that there could be no way he would submit to the USTA’s draconian Covid-19 protocols and play in New York?

Back then, he described the idea of keeping players within a tight bubble in and around the National Tennis Center for the duration of their stay as “quite extreme conditions for playing. I don’t think that is sustainable.” Then, just a week ago, it was reported that Djokovic would lead a boycott of the US Open unless the quarantine restrictions between the US and Europe were lifted for those in Flushing Meadows. Apparently, the whole of the top 20 would walk out unless they got their way.

But now, it seems, everything is well with world of tennis and Djokovic is ready to play.

“I am happy to confirm that I will participate at the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open this year,” Djokovic said. “It was not an easy decision to make with all the obstacles and challenges on so many sides, but the prospect of competing again makes me really excited.”

Presumably the thought of not having to face either Roger Federer (injured) or Rafael Nadal (focusing on the French Open) in the second grand slam of the rejigged season had nothing to do with his decision. As he moves closer his two greatest rivals, he is two major trophies behind Nadal and three shy of Federer’s record of 20. What could be a relatively free run to the final may allow him to close that gap while the other two sit at home.

Djokovic released a statement on 23 June 2020 that he tested positiv for Covid-19.

Having contracted Covid-19 during his ill-fated Adria Tour of the Balkans, Djokovic has now been declared free of the bug by the medics. He has been training in Marbella in Spain and feels that now he is ready to resume his regular day job of winning titles.

“I have trained hard with my team and got my body in shape so I am ready to adapt to new conditions,” he said. “I have done all the check-ups to make sure I am fully recovered and I am ready to get back on court fully committed to playing my best tennis.

“I am aware that this time around it will be very different with all the protocols and safety measures that are put in place to protect players and the people of New York. I appreciate everyone taking time, effort and energy to organise these two events for the tennis players to go back to their working field.”

For players as successful and wealthy as Djokovic, there are ways around being stuck in an airport hotel next to La Guardia for up to four weeks. They can, if they wish, rent private homes which would allow them to bring more people with them for the duration. That would, at least, relieve the boredom. However, only the player and two others will be allowed on site and only one of those others will be allowed on court, in the locker room or in the dining areas.

But if they do take the five-star option, the player must hire private 24-hour security and transportation to keep tabs on them while they lounge in their multi-bedroomed pad. And they must hire those services through the USTA. Given that a deeply average town house in Queens will set you back around £450 a night while a nicer place with more space on Long Island goes for about £1000 a night – and that is before the cost of the guards and driver – that is a huge bite out of any winner’s cheque.

Djokovic the world number 1 is worth around £165million.

Djokovic, though, can afford it – he is worth around £165million at a conservative estimate – so six figures spent on keeping himself sane and comfortable seems a small price to pay for that 18th grand slam title. No wonder he changed his mind.