Tennis: Neal Abrams voices his concerns about the USTA's plans to move forward with the U.S. Open
As much as I believe it’s a mistake, the USTA appears to have decided to move forward with staging the 2020 U.S. Open, as planned, in New York City at the Billie Jean King Tennis Stadium from Aug. 31-Sept. 13, 2020. The only thing that appears to be holding up the official announcement is the approval by New York city and state. Should these approvals come in, an announcement could be expected this week.
The USTA, which gets over 90% of its annual revenue from the U.S. Open, is planning strategic changes which it hopes will keep the tournament safe for the players and workers inside the tennis complex in Flushing Meadows, NY.
It appears as if the Open will be held without spectators, but with a TV audience that will bring the tournament $70 million from ESPN alone. The USTA will charter planes to transport players from around the world and house the players in a number of hotels strategically located close to either the airports or the tennis complex itself. Those traveling to the tournament will be entitled to bring one other member of their “team” of coaches, physios, trainers, cooks, hitting partners, or the like, and they will be required to come to New York two weeks prior to the tournament so that they can be tested for COVID-19 and get acclimated to the medical precautions prescribed by the USTA for this year’s Open.
The tournament hopes to feature two 128-person draws, one for the men and one for the women, but the doubles draws will probably be smaller than the traditional 64-team draws, allowing 24 teams to enter into each. There will be no qualifying tournaments, and those players who would normally have enough ATP or WTA points to enter the qualifying will be financially compensated by the USTA for not being able to enter a draw this year. The USTA also appears ready to move the the Western and Southern Open, usually held before the Open in Cincinnati, to the tri-state area, as a sort-of “warm-up” event so that the players, who have not had the advantage of playing competitively for the previous five months, may be able to use that as a tune-up event.
Many top players, however, appear extremely apprehensive about playing. On the women’s side, No. 1 ranked Ash Barty has expressed reservations about traveling around the world from Australia. Defending Wimbledon champion Simona Halep and No. 3 ranked Petra Kvitova also have expressed their doubts about participating in the tournament, while Americans Serena Williams and Danielle Collins appear chomping at the bit to play. That the tournament will be played appears to be a timely reprieve for the younger Williams, who is close to turning 39-years-old, and is still trying to tie Margaret Court’s record for winning Grand Slam tournaments at 24. Serena has been stuck on 23 ever since she won the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant, and if she is presented with a field that may be severely diluted of other top players, it will significantly increase her chance of tying Court’s record. Still, 13 of Court’s record 24 Slam titles were won before Open tennis began, so Williams still holds the record for most Slam titles won in the Open era, moving past the great Steffi Graf with that win Down Under.
The men’s field also is top-heavy with those who are showing reservations about playing in New York at this time. Defending Champion Rafa Nadal has been quoted saying that he does not feel comfortable playing, or even going, to New York, and No. 1 Novak Djokovic also feels so put upon to be allowed only one traveling partner, that that may be the determining issue that might keep him away from trying to unseat Rafa. No. 3 Dominic Thiem also has expressed concern about playing, and No. 4 Roger Federer is out for the year due to two successive knee surgeries. Should none of the top four men’s players enter the event, it would open up the field enormously and would favor either Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alex Zverev, or Daniil Medvedev to capture their first Grand Slam title, should they decide to compete. Another separate competitive issue for the men is who will be ready to compete for two weeks of best-of-five-set matches.
Also, keep in mind the rescheduled French Open is set to start Sept. 20, a week after the U.S.Open is set to end, so may of the top players holed up in Europe may just stay there.
My biggest concern, frankly, is that the USTA move forward with all their plans and then have to cancel the events due to the omnipresent dangers presented by the pandemic. Should that happen, the pro tennis world would once again sink into chaos.