In a challenging tennis season full of disruptions, winning this year’s United States Open and French Open back to back looks like the ultimate challenge.
Naomi Osaka will not be attempting it.
Fresh off her stirring run to the U.S. Open title last week, Osaka has announced that because of a lingering hamstring injury she will not play the French Open, which is set to begin in Paris on Sept. 27.
“My hamstring is still sore so I won’t have enough time to prepare for the clay — these 2 tournaments came too close to each other for me this time,” Ms. Osaka, 22, wrote in a message posted on Twitter late Thursday night. “I wish the organizers and players all the best.”
Osaka, who rose to No. 3 in the rankings this week on the strength of her latest title, injured her left hamstring during the Western & Southern Open, the tournament in New York that preceded the U.S. Open. She withdrew from the final but was able to manage the injury during the U.S. Open by skipping hitting sessions on her days off between matches. She played each of her seven rounds at the Open with the left hamstring tightly taped, including her three-set, comeback victory against Victoria Azarenka in the final.
“The hamstring was bothering her the entire tournament,” said Lindsay Davenport, a former No. 1 who is now a Tennis Channel analyst. “I actually thought in the final it was not good, especially at the beginning. She wasn’t moving great.”
After winning the title on Saturday, Osaka, who has had injuries to the same hamstring in the past, expressed uncertainty about being able to play in the French Open, the final Grand Slam tournament of 2020.
“I guess I’ll see what happens or how it feels when I get a rest,” she said.
The problem at this stage of this year’s disrupted season is that there is so little time to rest between majors. The French Open was moved from its usual dates in May and June because of high rates of coronavirus infection in France. The shift left only 13 days between the end of the U.S. Open and the start of the French, which gave those who advanced to the later rounds in New York little time to recover.
Some have plunged back into competition immediately. Azarenka, for example, is already in Rome, where she has won three matches and advanced to the quarterfinals of the Italian Open. On Thursday, she rolled past her doubles partner Sofia Kenin, the reigning Australian Open champion, 6-0, 6-0.
“It was always going to be a challenge for those who did really well in New York,” Davenport said. “Vika is making it look easy, coming straight to Rome, switching surfaces in a day and continuing to battle and compete.”
Rest is a priority for most. Of the four men and four women who reached the semifinals in singles at the U.S. Open, only Azarenka and the Spanish men’s player Pablo Carreño Busta chose to play in the Italian Open. Dominic Thiem, who won the U.S. Open men’s title and is typically comfortable with a tightly packed schedule, does not plan to play until the French Open.
“He needs to recover,” said Nicolas Massu, Thiem’s coach. “The most important thing now is to be smart with the calendar, because this is a different year.”
The transition from hard courts to clay is not straightforward for some players, requiring different tactics and footwork, including frequent sliding. Osaka’s best results have come on hard courts, including her three Grand Slam singles titles: two at the U.S. Open in 2018 and 2020 and another at the 2019 Australian Open. She has yet to advance past the third round at the French Open in four appearances and has a middling 18-14 career singles record on clay.
With Osaka’s withdrawal, two of the top three women’s players are now out of the French Open field. No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, the reigning French Open champion, already has withdrawn because of concerns about traveling during the coronavirus pandemic. Bianca Andreescu, ranked No. 7, is also unlikely to play because of a foot injury. But seven of the top 10 women are still expected to play in Paris: compared with only four of the top 10 at the U.S. Open.
The French Open also will be missing more spectators than it had expected. In July, tournament organizers announced ambitious plans for as many as 20,000 spectators per day, but the French Tennis Federation has repeatedly had to scale back those plans. With coronavirus infection rates rising again in the Paris region, it did so again this week.
On Thursday, the federation announced that only 5,000 fans will be permitted each day, and only on the main Philippe Chatrier court, which has a normal capacity of more than 15,000.
Not everything will be unusual at Roland Garros this year, though. Rafael Nadal, who has won a record 12 men’s singles titles, still intends to return. So does Thiem, who lost to Nadal in the last two French Open finals.
But while Nadal skipped the U.S. Open to train on clay in Europe, Thiem was pushing himself to the limit in New York: winning his first Grand Slam title in a fifth-set tiebreaker over Alexander Zverev.
Thiem, 27, has the skill set and love of clay to win in Paris, too. But Nadal, even at age 34, should be fresher, and the world No. 1 Novak Djokovic should be even hungrier than usual after his shocking disqualification in the fourth round in New York.
A Paris-New York double is quite a feat in any year, but all the more so when it is a New York-Paris double with so little breathing room in between.
“I’ll try everything,” Thiem said in an interview on Monday. “Everything to be 100 percent competitive and 100 percent ready. I love coming back on clay. It’s coming back home for me. I love the sliding, love grinding it out.”