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Halep withdraws from U.S. Open over COVID-19 concerns

(Reuters) - World number two Simona Halep of Romania will not travel to New York to play in the U.S. Open due to COVID-19 concerns, she said on Monday, leaving the women’s draw at the Grand Slam tournament without six of the world’s top-10 players.

FILE PHOTO: Tennis - WTA Premier 5 - Dubai Tennis Championships - Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium, Dubai, United Arab Emirates - February 22, 2020 Romania's Simona Halep in action during the final against Kazakhstan's Elena Rybakina REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

Romanian Halep joined world number one Ash Barty, defending champion Bianca Andreescu, Elina Svitolina, Kiki Bertens and Belinda Bencic in skipping the event at Flushing Meadows.

"After weighing up all the factors involved and with the exceptional circumstances in which we are living, I have decided that I will not travel to New York to play the U.S. Open," Halep, the reigning Wimbledon champion, wrote on Twitter here.

“I always said I would put my health at the heart of my decision and I therefore prefer to stay and train in Europe. I know the USTA and WTA have worked tirelessly to put on a safe event and I wish everyone there a successful tournament.”

Halep, 28, won the Prague Open over the weekend -- her first event since COVID-19 pandemic shut down tennis in March -- and said she would announce her decision about playing in the U.S. Open on Monday.

The U.S. has become the world’s biggest hotspot for the novel coronavirus, recording over 5.4 million cases and more than 170,000 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.

The U.S. Open, due to start on Aug. 31, will be played behind closed doors and Halep’s absence is another blow to organisers following a spate of withdrawals.

World number two and defending men’s champion Rafa Nadal decided to skip the tournament while five-times winner Roger Federer is taking the rest of the year off to recover from knee surgery.

Former world number four Kei Nishikori of Japan said on Sunday he had tested positive for COVID-19 and had pulled out of the Western & Southern Open, a warm-up tournament for the U.S. Open.

Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru, editing by Ed Osmond

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