The biggest talking point in the tennis world right now is the fate of the US Open. There's still a huge amount of uncertainly about whether New York will be ready to play host amid the COVID-19 crisis, and whether top players like Rafael Nadal will make the trip there even if the tournament is held.
Nadal has been dropping hints for a long time now that he might be tempted to skip the hardcourt Slam. And now he has started practicing on clay in full swing, which suggests he has made up his mind about where to resume his season.
Rafael Nadal and his defence of the two remaining Slams in 2020
World No. 2 Rafael Nadal had found himself in a bit of a pickle when the revised ATP Calendar was announced for the resumption of the tennis tour. There were five big tournaments crunched within a span of six weeks, with Nadal defending a total of 5,360 points through this revised swing.
The Spaniard is the defending champion at both the US Open and the French Open, and ordinarily would have risked losing a bulk of ranking points by missing either of the two Majors. But with the ATP announcing a revised 22-month ranking system, the 19-time Slam champion would have breathed a huge sigh of relief.
The King of Clay can now pick and choose whichever tournament he wants to play without the risk of losing any ranking points from last year.
It seems that Nadal is intent on making the most of this opportunity. A video of him practicing on clay at his academy in Mallorca was posted today on Instagram, which according to his fans all but confirms he will be skipping the hardcourt season.
One interpretation of this could be that Rafael Nadal is practicing in advance on clay as there is very little time for the transition from hardcourt - with the Madrid Masters beginning a day after the US Open final. But a majority of the fans are convinced that this is the final nail in the coffin on the Spaniard's participation in the hardcourt swing.
It is pertinent to note here that Rafael Nadal has already confirmed his participation for the ATP Masters 1000 tournament in Madrid. Nadal even responded to close friend and Madrid tournament director Feliciano Lopez on social media, showing how enthusiastic he was about playing on clay.
"That's the way it is, Feli. See you in Madrid in September. Meanwhile, everything goes well," Rafael Nadal had responded to Lopez's tweet, confirming his participation in Madrid.
And now, the video of him practicing on clay instead of hardcourt seems like a very strong indication that we won't be seeing the four-time champ defend his crown at the US Open this year.
If that does happen, it would make two out of the 'Big 3' of tennis absent from the US Open. Roger Federer had already announced last month that he wouldn't be returning to the tour in 2020 owing to another knee surgery.
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic is also still unsure of his US Open participation in the aftermath of his Adria Tour disaster. All things considered, there's a very realistic possibility that tennis' three biggest ambassadors will be missing from this year's US Open.