<
>

US Open winner Naomi Osaka noncommittal on French Open: 'I'll see what happens'

NEW YORK -- Naomi Osaka, who won the US Open women's singles title on Saturday for her third career major, hasn't yet decided if she'll play in the French Open, the Grand Slam event that was postponed in late May and is now scheduled to begin on Sept. 27.

"I was planning to play when I came here," Osaka said after defeating a resurgent Victoria Azarenka to claim her second US Open title in three years, "but I guess I'll see what happens."

Osaka had previously decided not to compete in the Italian Open, which begins Monday. The tournament, in Rome, was also pushed back from its traditional spring time slot, but will still serve as a warm-up for the French Open.

Serena Williams also pulled out of the Italian Open after she lost to Azarenka in the semifinals at the US Open, citing an Achilles tendon injury. But she was still committed to competing at Roland Garros. She said after her loss: "I'm definitely going to be going to Paris."

Williams is a three-time singles champion on the soft red clay courts of the French Open.

Also missing from the original entry list for Rome: WTA No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, the defending French Open champion. She decided earlier in the week that she would not travel to Europe at all this year, partly due to concerns about the pandemic and also because quarantine regulations at home have prevented her from working out with her coach, Craig Tyzzer of Melbourne.

Six of the top-ranked women chose to skip the US Open. Most of them are entered in Rome.

The tournament will feature No. 2-ranked Simona Halep, along with No. 5 Elina Svitolina and two women who did take part in the just completed "double in the bubble" at the USTA National Tennis Center. Karolina Pliskova, who will be seeded No. 2 in Rome, lost to Caroline Garcia in the second round of the US Open, and Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, a fourth-round loser in New York, will be seeded No. 3 in Italy.

Novak Djokovic, who was defaulted in the US Open during his fourth-round match with Pablo Carreno Busta after inadvertently hitting a line judge with a ball, leads the men's field in Rome. Rafael Nadal, the nine-time champion in Rome and "King of Clay," skipped the official relaunch of the ATP Tour on the hard courts in New York. He will be seeded No. 2 on the clay in Rome.

Among the men, Roger Federer is the only top-20 player missing from the Rome field. The Swiss icon said he was ending his season prematurely months ago due to complications after knee surgery.

The Italian Open is the only clay-court warm-up event for the French Open, hence the high participation rate.

Concerns about an ongoing spike in COVID-19 cases in France have made some players extra wary about playing in the French Open. Officials in Paris say they will be following strict health protocols, but they are also planning to allow a significant number of spectators. The French will divide their 30-acre site into three zones, with a show court in each zone and night play on the newly roofed main stadium, the Court Philippe Chatrier.

Organizers in Paris will try to accommodate about 20,000 fans daily, divided into the three separate zones in order to meet local regulations that put a cap on gatherings in one place in Paris at 5,000 individuals. Fans will be obliged to wear masks at all times, even when seated at a match.

"Since the international circuit restarted, Roland Garros will be the first tournament with the privilege of hosting an audience," French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli said in a news conference last Monday.

Some players have expressed reservations about the French plan, given the recent spike in the pandemic. Following her US Open loss to Osaka, Azarenka said of her participation in Paris: "We'll have to wait and see. I'm kind of excited for that, to play on clay. It will be very interesting for me to see how French Open is going to handle the situation with the bubble life, with the COVID now. I hope they will do a good job of protecting the players first rather than making money. So we'll see."