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

U.S. Open Tennis
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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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Asher Hong leads U.S. men’s gymnastics world team selection camp after first day

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Asher Hong, 18, posted the highest all-around score on the first of two days of competition at the U.S. men’s gymnastics selection camp to determine the last three spots on the team for the world championships that start in three weeks.

Hong, bidding to become the youngest U.S. man to compete at worlds since Danell Leyva in 2009, totaled 84.6 points in Colorado Springs. He edged Colt Walker by one tenth. Tokyo Olympians Shane Wiskus (84.15) and Yul Moldauer (83.95) were next. Full apparatus-by-apparatus scores are here.

Brody Malone, who repeated as U.S. all-around champion at August’s national championships, and runner-up Donnell Whittenburg already clinched spots on the five-man team for worlds in Liverpool, Great Britain. They did not compete Monday, though their results from the first day of nationals are shown in the official scores.

The three remaining team spots will not necessarily go to the top three all-arounders at this week’s camp, which is supposed to be weighed equally with results from August’s nationals. Hong was third at nationals, but if excluding difficulty bonus points from that meet that will not be considered by the committee, would have finished behind Walker and Moldauer in August.

A selection committee is expected to announce the team soon after the second and final day of selection camp competition on Wednesday evening. The committee will look at overall scoring potential for the world team final, where three men go per apparatus, and medal potential in individual events.

Stephen Nedoroscik, who last year became the first American to win a world title on the pommel horse, is trying to make the team solely on that apparatus. He wasn’t at his best at nationals and struggled again on Monday, hurting his chances of displacing an all-arounder for one of the last three spots.

The U.S. has reason to emphasize the team event over individual medals at this year’s worlds. It will clinch an Olympic berth by finishing in the top three, and its medal hopes are boosted by the absence of the Russians who won the Olympic team title. All gymnasts from Belarus and Russia are banned indefinitely from international competition due to the war in Ukraine.

In recent years, the U.S. has been among the nations in the second tier behind China, Japan and Russia, including in Tokyo, where the Americans were fifth.

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Ironman Kona World Championships return for first time in three years, live on Peacock

Ironman Kona World Championship
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The Ironman Kona World Championships return after a three-year hiatus with a new format, live on Peacock on Thursday and Saturday at 12 p.m. ET.

The Ironman, held annually in Hawaii since 1978, and in Kailua-Kona since 1981, was not held in 2020 or 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The world championships made a one-time-only stop in St. George, Utah, on May 7 to make up for the 2021 cancellation. The winners were Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt, the Tokyo Olympic triathlon champion, and Swiss Daniela Ryf, who bagged her fifth Ironman world title.

Both are entered in Kailua-Kona, where the races are now split between two days — Thursday for the women and Saturday for the men.

An Ironman includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a marathon — totaling 140.6 miles of racing. It takes top triathletes eight hours to complete. Very arguably, it crowns the world’s fittest man and woman.

WATCH LIVE: Ironman Kona, Thursday, 12 p.m. ET — STREAM LINK

Ryf, 35 and a 2008 and 2012 Olympian, can tie retired countrywoman Natascha Badmann for second place on the women’s list at six Ironman world titles. Only Zimbabwean-turned-American Paula Newby-Fraser has more with eight.

The field also includes German Anne Haug, the 2019 Kona champ and only woman other than Ryf to win since 2015. Brit Lucy Charles-Barclay, the Kona runner-up in 2017, 2018 and 2019, returns after missing the St. George event due to a stress fracture in her hip.

Blummenfelt, 28 and in his Kona debut, will try to become the youngest male champion in Kona since German Normann Stadler in 2005. His top challengers include countryman Gustav Iden, the two-time reigning Half Ironman world champion, and German Patrick Lange, the 2017 and 2018 Ironman Kona winner.

Also racing Saturday is Dallas Clark, a retired All-Pro NFL tight end with the Indianapolis Colts, and Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 champion who completed the 2011 Kona Ironman in 12 hours, 52 minutes, 40 seconds.

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