Novak Djokovic at last year's Madrid Open. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Novak Djokovic at last year's Madrid Open. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)|Associated Press
Tennis

Abrams' Tennis Update: Top pros reconsider U.S. Open, college tennis faces cuts, Juniors move, Women’s exhibition highlights . . . doubles?

Historic Nats at the Zoo ends run in Michigan to move to less safe Florida and Alabama.

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

With the country and the world slowly opening up and trying to get back to normal, the news in the tennis world changes daily. Here’s what’s happening today.

U.S. Open Update

Some of the highest ranked pros seem to change their tune as to both their desire and intent on coming to play both the U.S. Open and the Western and Southern Cincinnati Open. Novak Djokovic, Dominic Thiem and badboy Nick Kyrgios appear more ready to commit to playing than they were last week. Serena Williams has already committed, so it’s only another day or two until we hear that sister Venus is coming north, too. Still on the fence are women stars Ash Barty and Simona Halep, but if the rest of the players show that they will play, my guess is that they’ll submit to peer pressure, and in order to protect their ranking will show up too.

The Tournament Director and her Committee seem to have softened considerably on some of the stringent guidelines that were to be put in place to keep the pros safe and happy. Gone is the “one person” posse. It seems that world No. 1 Djokovic belly-ached so loudly that the Open has relented and now they will allow up to three persons to travel with each pro. Still uncertain is how many of those three will be allowed to attend matches. Additionally, gone is the idea of keeping all the pros in a “bubble” where they would only be allowed to stay in certain hotels. And since a lot of the players will be coming from just having participated in the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., wouldn’t that defeat the supposed purpose of “the bubble” anyway?

The USTA has said that it will pay for one hotel room per competitor, and if the player needs another room or more for his entourage, they will be responsible for it. It appears that the Committee has agreed to open up the ability for pros to rent homes in the NYC area, and to allow “housing” for some others. My guess is that if New York continues the improvement it has shown the past few weeks, the USTA will relent also on allowing the players access to Manhattan. After all, given the choice of being in any of the five boroughs of The City, Manhattan would be the choice of most of those playing, and even at 50% capacity, it is still the desired nighttime playground.

Another change has been the addition of wheelchair tennis to the schedule. Initially, the USTA had cut that event, along with qualies, Junior, Senior, and big doubles draws. But after a bit of controversy, the Committee has relented, and wheelchair tennis seems to be back.

College Tennis

Unfortunately, a number of colleges around the country have taken COVID-19 as an excuse to eliminate a lot of non-revenue producing sports. Hardest hit seems to be men’s and women’s golf, gymnastics, swimming and diving, and tennis. More than 100 tennis programs in the Southern region have dropped their programs, with likely more to come. Most of the programs appear to be Division II programs, but there are both Division I and III programs also on the chopping block as athletic directors are asked to reduce their budgets.

Juniors

The National Juniors and Boys 16’s, which has been playing its national championship in the confines of Stowe Stadium at Kalamazoo College since the 1940’s, is moving. It had previously been announced that the Boys 16’s had been moved to the Mobile Tennis Center in Mobile, Ala., for this year only, but now the Juniors have also been moved. The National Juniors are now scheduled to be played at the National Tennis Center at Lake Nona near Orlando, Fla., the very first time the Juniors will be played at a venue other than venerable Stowe in 77 years. It is expected that the event will relocate back to K-College next year, but it is, indeed, the end of an era. Left unsaid is whether Mark Riley, the Tournament Director of the Nats at the Zoo and the Head Coach of Kalamazoo College’s Division III powerhouse tennis program, will direct either of the two transplanted events. From a personal viewpoint, I think the USTA should utilize Riley’s direction at one of these tournaments, for his experience and expertise cannot be replaced.

One unanswered question remains: What makes either the Mobile Tennis Center or The National Tennis Center safer than The Zoo? Now that the virus numbers are spiking in the Midwest and the South, especially Florida, why did the USTA pick two sites in those exact areas? Since the USTA let go of 100 employees from its headquarters in White Plains, N.Y., maybe they let go of those who were the more forward thinkers. Michigan's numbers are rather good right now.

The Women’s Charleston Exhibition

On Monday, Maddy Keys and Bethanie Mattek-Sands will “pick” team members, like elementary school “captains” choosing sides for a lunchtime touch football game. The competition in the Credit One Bank International will begin on Tuesday, with event scores based on team competition. Interestingly, there will only be eight matches played, yet five of those eight will be doubles, with team point scoring increasing each day. Matches played on Tuesday will be worth a point apiece building to the four matches on Saturday and Sunday, worth three points apiece. All four matches on the final day of the event will be doubles, so the two captains are considering their “rosters”, based heavily on doubles play.

Scheduled so far to play, along with the two captains, are Vika Azarenka, Sloane Stephens, Monica Puig, Amanda Anisimova, Genie Bouchard, Danielle Collins, and Alison Riske.

How ironic is it that the winners of the tournament will do so due to doubles play when the tours have devalued doubles (no-ad games with a tiebreaker played in lieu of a third set) to the point that none of them know how to play doubles. Maybe exhibitions like this will show that doubles is a great game on its own and deserves love too.

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