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U.S. Open tennis tournament moves forward with no-fans plan

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Moving closer to holding the first Grand Slam tournament of the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Tennis Association is awaiting the go-ahead from the New York state government to play the U.S. Open in New York starting in August — without fans and with strict health protocols.

“We’re ready to move forward,” USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier said in a telephone interview Monday, “as long as we get all the approvals we need.”

A formal announcement could come this week.

“We’ve received a proposal and we’re reviewing it,” Richard Azzopardi, a spokesman for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, wrote in an email.

Like many sports, the professional tennis tours have been suspended since March because of the pandemic. The French Open was postponed from May and currently is slated to start a week after the Sept. 13 end of the U.S. Open; Wimbledon was canceled altogether for the first time since World War II in 1945.

Even if the state OKs the U.S. Open, one significant question would remain: Which players actually would participate?

Such top names as both No. 1-ranked players, Novak Djokovic and Ash Barty, and defending men’s champion Rafael Nadal, have expressed reservations about heading to Flushing Meadows, where an indoor tennis facility was used as a temporary home for hundreds of hospital beds at the height of the city’s coronavirus crisis.

Already ruled out, regardless: Roger Federer, who has won five of his men’s-record 20 Grand Slam singles titles at the U.S. Open but announced recently that he is out for the rest of the year after needing a second arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.

With international TV contracts — including an annual average of $70 million from ESPN alone — helping offset the loss of money from ticket sales and other onsite revenue, and facing a recession that already led to the recent elimination of more than 100 jobs at the USTA, the association’s board decided to go forward with its marquee event despite concerns about COVID-19 and international travel.

“At the end of the day, there are three factors involved in the decision-making. No. 1 is creating a plan that has health and safety at the forefront. No. 2 is whether conducting the U.S. Open is the right thing for the sport of tennis. And No. 3 is whether it can be done in a financially viable manner. We believe we can hit all three of the objectives,” Widmaier said. “But we do need to approach this in a step-by-step manner, and when all of the steps are completed, that is when we can make an official announcement.”

The plan shared with the state government includes: zero spectators; limited player entourages; assigned hotels; increased cleaning at the tournament grounds; extra locker room space; daily temperature checks and occasional testing for COVID-19.

There would be no qualifying for singles and likely reduced fields for doubles. Players whose rankings would have put them in qualifying rounds that allow some men and women access to the 128-player singles draws will be compensated with funds the USTA will pass along to the ATP and WTA tours to distribute.

Also part of the proposal shared with players: The Cincinnati hard-court tournament scheduled for Aug. 16-23 — the USTA is its majority owner — would be moved to New York and held in place of U.S. Open qualifying.

Last week, Djokovic said the restrictions that would be in place for the U.S. Open in New York because of the virus would be “extreme.”

“Most of the players I have talked to were quite negative on whether they would go there,” Djokovic said.

He hosted exhibition matches with packed stands last week in his home country of Serbia, where the government lifted most lockdowns and restrictions last month.

“I have concerns, too,” Barty wrote in an email. “I understand the tournaments are eager to run, but keeping everyone safe has to be the priority.”

Widmaier said the USTA has been consulting with the ATP and WTA about its setup.

“Our stated goal has been that, if we could build a plan in conjunction with medical and security experts that mitigated the risks of COVID-19 and assured the health and well-being of all U.S. Open participants, we very much want to move ahead with the tournament,” he said. “We believe, by working in the collaborative manner with these experts and the two tours, we have such a plan.”

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World Alpine Skiing Championships on for 2021 after request to delay rejected

Alpine Skiing World Championships
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GENEVA (AP) — A request by the organizers of next year’s skiing world championships in Italy to postpone the event by one year was rejected Thursday by the International Ski Federation.

FIS ruled that the event will go ahead from Feb. 9-21, 2021, in Cortina d’Ampezzo — the highlight of an Alpine season that faces challenges to find safe protocols for international travel and attending races in Europe, North America and China.

The Veneto region of northern Italy was hit hard by the coronavirus and the season-ending World Cup races in Cortina in mid-March were canceled. That week-long event was to be a test for the 2021 worlds.

“The last month of efforts to come to this solution demonstrates the strong collaborative spirit of the ski family and stakeholders.” FIS president Gian-Franco Kasper said.

Organizers in Italy have said they expect losses of about 30 million euros ($34 million) if the worlds are also canceled. They asked for a postponement to March 2022, which would be only weeks after the Beijing Olympics.

“But we will be ready in any case and we will show that these world championships can change the history of a region despite the current difficulties,” Alessandro Benetton, president of the Cortina organizing committee, said in a statement.

Italian racer Sofia Goggia, the 2018 Olympic downhill champion, said she was “happy for Cortina because it will host the first major international event after the coronavirus epidemic.”

Cortina, which hosted the 1956 Olympics, will co-host the 2026 Winter Games with Milan and use the worlds as a showcase for the resort.

The women’s World Cup downhill on the Olympia delle Tofane course each January is one of the most scenic in the sport with a signature jump between tall outcrops of jagged rock.

The Dolomites venue was awarded the 2021 worlds by FIS after missing out as a candidate four straight times from 2013-19.

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Russia track and field athlete clearance frozen due to unpaid fine

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MONACO (AP) — The program allowing Russian track athletes to compete internationally will be frozen because the country’s federation failed to pay a fine on time, World Athletics said Thursday.

The Russian track federation, known as RusAF, owes a $5 million fine and another $1.31 million in costs for various doping-related work and legal wrangles. World Athletics said RusAF missed Wednesday’s deadline to pay.

World Athletics said it would freeze the work of the Doping Review Board, which vets Russian athletes who want the “authorized neutral athlete” status that allows them to compete internationally, and its taskforce monitoring RusAF’s anti-doping reforms.

World Athletics said both bodies will be “put on hold” until its council meets to discuss the situation at the end of July.

“RusAF is letting its athletes down badly,” World Athletics president Sebastian Coe said in a statement. “We have done as much as we can to expedite our ANA process and support RusAF with its reinstatement plan, but seemingly to no avail.”

RusAF president Yevgeny Yurchenko earlier told the Tass state news agency that his federation’s finances were damaged by the coronavirus pandemic and that it had asked for more time to pay.

World Athletics’ statement didn’t directly address that issue, but said Russia hadn’t indicated when it would pay.

Russia was fined $10 million by World Athletics in March, with $5 million suspended for two years, after the federation admitted to breaking anti-doping rules and obstructing an investigation.

The Athletics Integrity Unit said fake documents were used under the previous management to give an athlete an alibi for missing a doping test.

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