LOS ANGELES | New balls: after a forced interruption of more than four months because of the coronavirus, world tennis will resume its rights with the US Open, from August 31 to September 13 in New York, without spectators, but with which stars?
First sizeable defection, Romanian Simona Halep, former world number one, will be absent, preferring to focus on Roland-Garros, rescheduled at the end of September.
Not yet enough to spoil the good news, long awaited by admirers of the little yellow ball and given by the governor of New York on Twitter: “The US Open will take place in Queens, NY, behind closed doors from August 31 to September 13 ”.
“The American Tennis Federation (USTA) will take extraordinary precautions to protect players and staff, including regular testing, increased cleaning of the premises, additional locker room space, dedicated accommodation and transportation,” listed Andrew Cuomo after giving the green light.
The USTA immediately displayed its satisfaction after so many uncertainties related to the pandemic, which made the bet to maintain the tournament in New York, city most affected by COVID-19. The spread is now better contained.
“We are aware of the enormous responsibility of hosting one of the main world sporting events in these difficult times, and we will do so in the safest possible way,” said the body, before details of its plan does come out in the media.
A month in New York
Thus, the US Open will be cut off from singles qualifying and the doubles table will be reduced from 64 pairs to 32.
The Cincinnati Masters 1000 was also moved from August 22 to 28 to Flushing Meadows, to chain it with the Major, in order to concentrate the players in New York for almost a month.
It remains to be seen if the other tournaments of the summer hard tour in North America will be maintained. ATP and WTA should in principle communicate Wednesday on the schedule of resumption.
In the meantime, the maintenance of the US Open has something to relieve the USTA, which has just initiated a restructuring which resulted in the dismissal of 110 employees. Without an audience, revenues will be less, but offset by those from television rights.
Depending on the protocols, players will have the choice between staying in a hotel where two double rooms are reserved for them, or renting a house at their own expense, outside Manhattan. They can therefore be accompanied by three members of their entourage.
What to make much less “extreme” conditions thus qualified last week by Novak Djokovic, who had judged “impossible” to go there without his full staff.
“Selfish” decision for Kyrgios
As for COVID-19 tests, players will have to perform one before their departure and throughout their stay, at a rate of one to two per week. Daily temperature measurements, wearing masks, social distancing will be required.
What to convince Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, who considered at the beginning of June impossible to “resume as long as the situation is not entirely certain”? The next few days will show it, while in their equation, Roland-Garros and the prospect of a complicated sequence are added.
In the absence of Roger Federer, who has drawn the line on 2020 after having been operated again on his right knee, it still seems difficult to imagine the Spaniard missing an opportunity to win in New York his 20th Grand Slam and thus return up to Switzerland. Ditto for Djokovic, who can approach them with a potential 18th title.
“Of course people who live in the US are pushing for the holding of the US Open,” reacted the Australian Nick Kyrgios on his Twitter account, denouncing a “selfish” decision. Before ironing: “I will prepare my Hazmat (protective) suit when I travel from Australia, then I will have to quarantine for two weeks when I return.”
Far from these considerations, the Czech Petra Kvitova, double winner of Wimbledon, believes that many players will play the US Open for financial reasons.
“To be honest, I don’t want to go … There’s nothing else we can do about it.” And, above all, we will play without admirers, ”she told Czech media. “But you can make money there after a long time and I think a lot will go there.”
Conversely, her compatriot Karolina Pliskova, world number 3, underlined “the importance of starting to play again”. “If we stay home and wait for the perfect situation, we can wait forever.”