Halep joins with­drawals from the ‘As­ter­isk Slam’

De­ci­sion leaves US Open with two of world’s top eight Osaka is the high­est earner in women’s sport with £28m

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport | Tennis - By Si­mon Briggs

Reign­ing Wim­ble­don cham­pion Si­mona Halep has joined the long list of play­ers opt­ing out of the US Open, which is due to start be­hind closed doors on Aug 30.

Halep’s with­drawal means that only two of the world’s eight topranked women – Karolina Pliskova, of the Czech Re­pub­lic, and reign­ing Aus­tralian Open cham­pion Sofia Kenin, of the United States – are ex­pected to par­tic­i­pate.

World No 9 Ser­ena Wil­liams – who made her com­pet­i­tive re­turn last week at the Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ken­tucky – will be the third seed and book­mak­ers’ favourite. The weak­ened field should give Wil­liams an im­proved chance of fi­nally match­ing Mar­garet Court’s record tally of 24 ma­jor ti­tles. Yet there are al­ready whis­pers that, who­ever wins, the event will be known as “the As­ter­isk Slam”.

“I al­ways said that I would put my health at the heart of my de­ci­sion,” Halep said on so­cial me­dia, “and I there­fore pre­fer to stay and train in Europe.” The Ro­ma­nian won the Prague Open – which was played on clay courts – on Sun­day, and will surely have a strong chance at the de­layed French Open. Play is sched­uled to start in Paris on Sept 27, two weeks af­ter the US Open fin­ishes.

One dis­ap­point­ment for the US Open’s or­gan­is­ers is that both de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons will be ab­sent.

Bianca An­dreescu with­drew on Fri­day on fit­ness grounds, a fort­night af­ter Rafael Nadal had an­nounced that he would not be par­tic­i­pat­ing. But Dan Evans, the Bri­tish No1, told the Ten­nis Pod­cast yes­ter­day: “I think the play­ers should try to make it work for ten­nis. Other sports have got on with it.”

Evans has al­ready trav­elled to New York with his coach, Mark Hil­ton, and his girl­friend, Aleah. For the first 24 hours, they were holed up in their rooms at the Long Is­land ho­tel wait­ing for the re­sults of their Covid-19 tests to come through.

Once their neg­a­tive sta­tus was as­sured, they were able to travel to Flush­ing Mead­ows for prac­tice. “The site it­self looks a bit big­ger, if that makes any sense,” Evans said. “They’re putting in gyms and stuff. There’s more space be­cause there’s no peo­ple on­site. You can sit in places you never thought you could sit be­fore. I think they have done a good job with the site and with the ho­tel. I was wor­ried that it would be cramped and no out­side space, but that’s not the case.

“I don’t think any­one will break the bub­ble. I think it will work if peo­ple want it to work. You’ve got a few names which have dropped out, but [world No1 No­vak] Djokovic was there to­day, so you’ve got some good names still play­ing the tour­na­ment.”

Evans’s pos­i­tive ver­dict was sup­ported by John Mill­man, the world No 43 from Aus­tralia, who tweeted: “It’s no­tice­able how hard the United

States Ten­nis As­so­ci­a­tion has worked to cre­ate a com­fort­able and safe en­vi­ron­ment. I’m pumped to be back play­ing.”

Mean­while, the lat­est Forbes list of the world’s high­est-paid fe­male ath­letes has con­firmed be­yond doubt that ten­nis is the most lu­cra­tive sport for women.

The top nine places are oc­cu­pied by ten­nis play­ers, be­fore United States foot­baller Alex Mor­gan breaks the run at No10.

At the top, Naomi Osaka’s es­ti­mated in­come of just over $37mil­lion (£28mil­lion) in 2020 puts her ahead of Ser­ena Wil­liams’s $36mil­lion. This eco­nomic ar­gu­ment surely ex­plains why Amer­ica’s ten­nis tal­ent is so strongly skewed to­wards the women, with 17 of them ap­pear­ing in the world’s top 100 as against only eight for the men. The same phe­nom­e­non does not ap­ply in the UK, with three men in the top 100 and only two women.

Stay­ing put: Si­mona Halep will re­main in Europe rather than trav­el­ling to the US

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