US Open Tennis Fans : The U.S. Open tennis tournament will take place as scheduled, but it will not include fans, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Tuesday.
The event, which has been a big revenue driver for the state, will take place Aug. 31 to Sept. 13 at the Billy Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens.
The United States Tennis Association issued a statement saying it’s excited New York approved its plan to hold the tournament on time.
“We recognize the tremendous responsibility of hosting one of the first global sporting events in these challenging times, and we will do so in the safest manner possible, mitigating all potential risks. We now can give fans around the world the chance to watch tennis’ top athletes compete for a US Open title, and we can showcase tennis as the ideal social distancing sport,” Mike Dowse, USTA CEO, said in a statement.
Cuomo outlined some of the safety measures that will be necessary to hold an event of this caliber.
“The USTA will take extraordinary precautions to protect players and staff, including robust testing, additional cleaning, extra locker room space and dedicated housing and transportation,” Cuomo said in his daily news conference.
However, not everyone is happy with the decision to hold the iconic tournament. Top players including Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have publicly expressed their concerns.
With New York being the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S., temporary hospitals were set up at the Flushing facility.
“Most of the players I have talked with were quite negative on whether they would go there,” Djokovic said in an interview with Serbia’s state broadcaster RTS on Tuesday.
Djokovic said the restrictions in place would be “extreme” and “not sustainable.”
Nick Kyrgios called it “selfish” to hold the U.S. Open.
“I’ll get my hazmat suit ready for when I travel from Australia and then have to quarantine for 2 weeks on my return,” he tweeted Monday.
The U.S. Open tennis tournament brings in $400 million in revenue annually, which accounts for 80% of the USTA’s yearly total. More than 700,000 fans attended the tournament last year from all over the world. The event generates business to the area’s hotels, restaurants and the greater local economy.
Almost as if on cue, an airplane rumbled over the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York on its path to nearby LaGuardia Airport while Stacey Allaster, tournament director of the U.S. Open, announced in a virtual news conference that this year’s Open would take place with players confined in a “bubble” and without the presence of fans whose passion makes the tournament so vibrant and compelling.
Take away the qualifying rounds, part of the doubles draw, all of the mixed doubles, wheelchair and junior events, many of the linespeople and the fans who shout their support from the upper reaches of the main stadiums and smartly debate the backhands of players consigned to the outer courts, and what’s left?
Planes roaring overhead and something that will be the U.S. Open in name but not in spirit.
Barring a COVID-19 contagion, the show will go on from Aug. 31 through Sept. 13 and will be a quieter version of what’s traditionally the most raucous and rigorous Grand Slam event of the year. It will be preceded by the Western & Southern Open, which will move from Cincinnati to Flushing Meadows to become a sort of warmup tournament that will run from Aug. 19 to 28.
The U.S. Open draw will feature 120 players plus eight wild cards in each of the men’s and women’s draws. Prize money will be $60 million for the two events, with $3.3 million to be given to the women’s tour and $3.3 million to the men’s tour to compensate players who won’t have qualifying rounds to earn money and fight for a spot in the main draw.
“We’re in the place of reopening society,” said Dr. Brian Hainline, chief medical officer of the NCAA and an advisor to the U.S. Tennis Assn. Playing the Open, he added, “is also good for society because sport is an essential aspect of who we are as human beings. Sport does bring us health and well-being, and even to watch sport, it brings us so much pleasure.”
Joyless though it may feel with empty stands and rules that include players physical distancing and wearing masks except when in a match or training, staging the Open will generate money the USTA says it will plow back into grassroots growth efforts. USTA Chief Executive Mike Dowse said the organization expected its operating income to plunge 80% this year, so earning something through TV rights is better than earning nothing.
But is it something worth doing? The USTA insists it is.
“This is fantastic news for tennis,” Allaster said. “The U.S. Open is open for business.”
And so it will be business unusual, without fans and media but with elaborate medical protocols designed to mitigate the chances players or their entourages will contract the novel coronavirus. Those entourages will be limited to three guests per player, with negotiations ongoing to determine how many will be allowed on site. “We’ve created this centralized U.S. Open and Western & Southern Open world,” Allaster said.
Players will be urged to stay at the TWA Hotel near JFK Airport, where they’ll be tested for COVID-19 before they leave for the tennis complex and will undergo testing throughout the tournament. They’ll have meals and entertainment available at the hotel and on the tournament grounds, where suites usually filled by fans and corporate networkers will be used as player lounges. Space at the tennis center will be converted to soccer and basketball courts for the amusement of players. Presumably, they’ll maintain a responsible distance from one another.
Serena Williams, who won six of her 23 Slam singles titles at Flushing Meadows and was the runner-up each of the past two years, made a virtual appearance Wednesday to say she “cannot wait” to play again. She’s so eager, Allaster said, that Williams had a court installed at her Florida home similar to the U.S. Open’s hardcourt surface.