Ordinarily Rafa Nadal would likely be closing in on a 13th French Open title this week. Instead, he is home in Mallorca trying to make sense of a world that feels anything but normal.
Tennis is on hold until at least the start of August because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and while there have been positive noises about the prospects of the U.S. Open taking place, followed by the French Open, Nadal served a dose of reality.
Speaking via Zoom to tennis media, the day after his 34th birthday, Nadal was asked his thoughts of playing at the U.S. Open, of which he is reigning champion.
“If you asked me today if I want to travel today to New York to play a tennis tournament, I will say: no, I will not,” the world number two told reporters. “In a couple of months, I don’t know. Hopefully yes.
“We need to wait probably until we have more information about how the virus evolves, how the situation’s going to be. New York has been one of the places that has been hit most strongly by the virus.”
When tennis returns, it will most likely be without fans.
“I hate the idea, honestly. But if that’s the only way, why not? That’s my position. I don’t understand tennis without the energy of the crowd, without the passion a full stadium brings.”
While still in the grip of a pandemic, the U.S. is also experiencing outrage and protests over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died while in police custody.
“I am of course worried to see all these disasters happening on the streets,” Nadal said. “Violence and pandemics like this today create a difficult climate, a difficult atmosphere for the world. It’s important to stay calm, to respect everyone, to live together in peace.”
While Nadal is missing his Roland Garros stomping ground, he says there are more important things.
“I miss playing the tournaments that I like. At the same time I’m not thinking about that. First we must recover normal life, recover the freedom in terms of be able to enjoy our personal lives, then try to organise our professional lives.”
Nadal thinks tennis faces a tough challenge to restart, especially with some regions seeing rising COVID-19 death rates.
“We can’t come back until the situation is completely safe and players from every single part (of the world) can travel to the tournaments under safe circumstances to compete,” he said.
“From my point of view if we would have a vaccine by December I would say that it wouldn’t make any sense to go back to play tennis now, I don’t think its worth it to take the risks.
“But if they say we will won’t have it until two years, then we need to find ways to go back to some kind of normality because the world and sport can’t stop for so long.”