A number of the world’s top tennis players are expressing their concerns with plans being proposed in order to host the U.S. Open in New York later this year.
With the French Open postponed until late in September and Wimbledon cancelled by the outbreak of COVID-19, the U.S. Open is the next Grand Slam event on the tennis calendar.
It is slated for Monday, August 24th through Sunday, September 13th in New York City at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
However, the many COVID-19-related restrictions that the United States Tennis Association is planning to put into place for the event are getting the attention of the sport’s leading players, and not in a good way.
While thrilled by the thought of returning to the court and getting back to playing championship tennis, Australian Ashleigh Barty, the world’s top-rated women’s player, was maintaining a sense of cautious optimism about it all.
“It’s exciting that tennis is being talked about again,” Barty told the Sydney Morning Herald. “Things are moving in the right direction for us to start competing.”
At the same time, Barty wasn’t ready to commit 100 per cent to the process being outlined for participation in the U.S. Open.
“I’d need to understand all of the information,” Barty said. “And advice from the WTA and the USTA before making a decision on the US events. It’s not just me, it’s my team I have to consider.”
U.S. Open Regulations
New York was among the hardest hit American cities by the coronavirus. As a nation, the USA has seen 1.9 million cases of COVID-19 and 109,000 deaths.
The U.S. Open men’s singles champion in 2011, 2015 and 2018, Djokovic doesn’t sound like a man who’s thinking about winning the event in 2020.
“I had a telephone conversation with the leaders of world tennis,” Djokovic said. “There were talks about the continuation of the season, mostly about the U.S. Open due in late August, but it’s not known whether it will be held.”
To participate, players will be expected to live in virtual quarantine in airport hotels when not on the court. They’ll be prohibited from visiting tourist attractions in Manhattan and will be tested for COVID-19 2-3 times per week.
Djokovic labelled these plans both “extreme” and “impossible.”
“We would not have access to Manhattan, we would have to sleep in hotels at the airport, to be tested twice or three times per week,” Djokovic said.
“Also, we could bring one person to the club, which is really impossible. I mean, you need your coach, then a fitness trainer, then a physiotherapist.”
Djokovic, who serves as the president of the ATP player council, is not alone in feeling these concerns. World No. 2 Rafael Nadal doubted that he’d be willing to make the journey to New York under the current conditions in the USA.
“If you asked me if I want to travel to New York today to play a tennis tournament, I will say no – I will not,” Nadal told Eurosport.
Nadal did leave open the possibility that things could get better between now and late August, making the scenario more palatable.
“In a couple of months, I don’t know how the situation is going to improve,” Nadal said. “My feeling is we need to be responsible, sending strong messages, and be a positive example for society.
“I am confident that if the tournament is played, it’s going to be under extremely safe circumstances. If not, in my opinion, it doesn’t make sense.”
Czech Petra Kvitova, the 12th-ranked women’s player in the world, also wondered aloud about trying to play a Grand Slam event in front of empty stadium seats.
“It would be very tough for me playing a Grand Slam without the fans,” Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion, told Tennis.com. “I do have experience from the tournament we just had here in the Czech Republic and it’s very sad (without the fans).”
Lesser Lights Speak Out
While the top players may have cause for uncertainty, among those further down the tennis ladder, their concern stems more from the ability to survive absent their regular tennis income.
Britain’s Daniel Evans, currently ranked 28th in the ATP, suggested that big names like Djokovic and Nadal needed to suck it up and think of the little guy when they weigh their U.S. Open options.
“This is the point where I think the players should really come together and Novak and Rafa should really be looking to help those players with lower ranks so they get a good payday,” Evans told BBC 5 Live.
“I don’t think having one person of your team only allowed (in the stadium) is such a big deal. The majority of the draw would only travel with one coach.
“Not everyone’s travelling with physios and fitness trainers like Novak said, so I think his argument there is not really valid for the rest of the draw, apart from the real top guys.”