The United States Tennis Association is pressing ahead with their plans to hold this year’s US Open despite the potential prospect of some top names skipping the event.
Newly appointed tournament director Stacey Allaster and other officials have been pondering three potential options concerning the New York major, which included scrapping it for the first time in history. There have been concerns expressed over the practicalities of hosting such a big event in a state that has been the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic in America. New York has reported more than 210,000 cases of the virus which has resulted in over 17,000 deaths.
“Our team has literally worked around the clock to figure out a way we can have the U.S. Open and do it in a safe way,” The New York Times quoted USTA president Patrick Galbraith as saying last Wednesday during a video call.
“Without having close social contact, we feel if one player gets it (COVID-19), it’s not going to spread. Our infectious disease specialists are confident on that. They are going to be pulled out of the environment, but you have to have close contact to get this.” He later added.
The decision to proceed with the US Open comes as no surprise with the USTA desperate to maintain some financial deals. Even if no fans can attend the tournament, the US Open still has various sponsorship and TV deals at stake. The organisation has previously made over 100 people redundant due to the current economic climate and closed its national headquarters in New York to save money. Unlike Wimbledon, the US Open would lose a substantial amount of money because they are not covered by pandemic insurance.
According to sources at ESPN and Forbes, both the ATP and WTA have already agreed for the Grand Slam to get underway at the end of August. It is understood that the delay in public confirmation is due to the USTA waiting for formal approval from local government officials.
In another development linked to the Grand slam, there is a strong chance that this year’s Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati will also be moved to New York and act as a warm-up for the US Open. A proposal that emerged a couple weeks ago. The idea of the relocation is to minimise player’s travel in the country and keep them in what is essentially being described as a ‘bubble.’
Will the top guns go?
The decision to go ahead with the US Open comes after a series of top names in the sport voiced their doubts about attending the event. Men’s world No.1 Novak Djokovic had previously described the measures as ‘extreme’ during a recent interview with Serbian TV. Expressing concern over the proposal of allowing players to bring only one member of their team to the US Open site.
“It’s something that’s pretty unthinkable at the moment. You can’t go to Manhattan, you’d have to sleep in a hotel at the airport, you’d have to pick just one person to come to the club with you. There would be no audience, there would be no media … Quite extreme conditions in which to play. I don’t know if it’s sustainable.” Djokovic commented on the situation.
Rafael Nadal, who is the reigning champion, said just over a week ago he would not travel to the event if it was taking place at present. The Spaniard has previously stated that he believes the Tour should not start again until the worldwide travel restrictions make it fair for all players regardless of where they are based.
“We need to be clear. We need to be responsible, we need to be sending strong messages and a positive example for society,” Nadal argues. “We are suffering from an unprecedented situation and my feeling is that we need to come back (to the Tour) when all players are able to travel and are safe to do so.”
“If not, I probably will still play, but my feeling would be that we (the ATP) are not being 100 percent correct. I want to see my sport being 100 percent fair and correct. Especially under the circumstances.”
There is also discontent from some members of women’s tennis with French Open champion Ash Barty recently casting doubts on her appearance in New York this year. In an email exchange with The Associated Press, Barty admitted that she has ‘concerns.’
“I have concerns too,” she stated. “I understand the tournaments are eager to run but keeping everyone safe has to be the priority.”
“I can’t wait to get back out there and play but we have to make sure it’s safe to do so first, not just for me but for my team,” Barty later added.
Two-time major champion Petra Kvitova has previously said she would rather have the US Open scrapped than face the prospect of playing behind closed doors. A view that has also been echoed by the likes of Marin Cilic and Roger Federer.
“I have my age and of course I would like to play another Grand Slam, but if it’s like this, I’d rather cancel them,” the former Wimbledon winner said last month.
“Playing a Grand Slam is the greatest thing there is and playing without fans who are our engine doesn’t look nice to me and the Grand Slam doesn’t deserve it.” She added.
A formal announcement regarding the US Open will be made later this week once the New York authorities approve their plans to host the tournament. Also set to take place over the coming days will be the ATP and WTA publishing their schedules for the remainder of the 2020 season. It is unclear if all three will make their announcements on the same day.
The US Open is set to get underway on August 31st.