US Open Tennis California: The United States Tennis Association is considering “every scenario” for holding the U.S. Open this year, including potentially having the event without fans in New York in the late summer or moving it to Indian Wells in California in November.
“Every scenario is on the table,” Chris Widmaier, the USTA’s head of communications, told ESPN. “Playing without fans at the traditional site, moving the event, we are modeling different scenarios but our desire is to have the tournament in its scheduled time slot at the National Tennis Center.”
The Open is slated to run Aug. 24-Sept. 13 at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, and organizers have said they will decide by June what to do.
New York has been the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic with 319,000 confirmed cases and more than 19,000 deaths as of Tuesday. Holding the Open would mean having players fly in from all over the world and converging on one site for two weeks.
“I don’t think training would be a problem, but competing… I see it very difficult,” defending U.S. Open champion Rafael Nadal said recently. “It’s a moment to be responsible and coherent, so I don’t see how we can travel every week to a different country.
“I would be OK playing without fans, even though that’s not what we want, but unfortunately, from what I’m seeing, even though things are improving, for our sport I don’t see it prudent to be competing again any time soon.”
Nadal said that even though there is a smaller risk of contagion in tennis compared to team sports, there are many people involved in the organization of tennis tournaments, from hotels to other sectors of society.
“As far as competing, maybe our sport is the most complicated one, having to move a lot of people week after week,” he said.
If the USTA could somehow pull off the event safely in Queens later this summer, it could provide a huge boost both in the city and nationally. (A vaccine for COVID-19 is not expected until later in 2020 at the earliest or sometime in 2021.)
“If the USTA finds a way to pull off the tournament, even if it’s with a reduced draw on just a few courts, and without doubles (because of social distancing restrictions), it would be one of the most-watched sporting events of all time,” John Tobias, whose GSEworldwide management firm represents Sloane Stephens and the Bryan brothers, told ESPN.
Holding the Open in the California desert in November would be an intriguing idea. Indian Wells hosts the so-called “fifth Slam” every March, but became the first major American sporting event to cancel its event on March 9. The Indian Wells center court accommodates 16,000 fans and is the second-largest tennis arena in the world behind Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing Meadows.
The ATP and WTA Tours are currently canceled until July 13 due to the ongoing pandemic. Wimbledon has already been canceled while the French Open took the unique step of pushing its event from June until the week after the U.S. Open (Sept. 20-Oct. 4).
“Health and safety remains the top priority as we navigate the challenges ahead in these unprecedented times, and we will do everything we can for the Tour to resume at the earliest opportunity once it is safe to do so,” ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said last month.
Nadal and Bianca Andreescu are the defending champions at the U.S. Open, which is traditionally the final Grand Slam of the year, but may not be this year due to the French Open’s move. Both Nadal and Andreescu took home $3.85 million last year.
As for whether they will get a chance to defend their titles this year, Widmaier said a decision won’t just be about finances.
“Whatever decision we make won’t be just about finances,” Widmaier said. “It will be about our responsibility and what the tournament means to us, to fans around the world, and to New York. It is our desire and our responsibility to put on the tournament.”