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Governor Andrew Cuomo OKs U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave the go-ahead Tuesday for the U.S. Open tennis tournament to be held in his state starting in late August — but without spectators — as part of the reopening from shutdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“You can watch it on TV, and I’ll take that,” Cuomo said at his daily briefing in Albany.

Now that the U.S. Tennis Association’s proposal to hold its marquee event has been accepted — including a “bubble” setup with designated hotels, limited player entourages and a facility closed to the hundreds of thousands of people who usually attend the U.S. Open — the key question becomes: Who actually will end up competing on the blue hard courts in Flushing Meadows from Aug. 31 to Sept. 13?

Some of the sport’s top names, including defending U.S. Open men’s champion Rafael Nadal along with No. 1-ranked players Novak Djokovic and Ash Barty, have expressed reservations about heading somewhere that was a hot spot for the COVID-19 outbreak. An indoor tennis facility at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center temporarily housed hundreds of hospital beds at the height of New York’s coronavirus crisis.

Others expressed an eagerness to return to action: Both the ATP and WTA tours have been suspended since early March because of the virus. The U.S. Open normally is the fourth and final Grand Slam tournament of each season but would be the second major of 2020, following the Australian Open, which concluded in early February.

The start of the clay-court French Open was postponed from May and currently is scheduled to begin a week after the U.S. Open ends. Wimbledon was canceled altogether for the first time since World War II in 1945.

“Well done @usta for being so forward thinking in getting this done. A great achievement. Players and fans alike are thrilled with this development,” tweeted John Isner, the top U.S. man in the rankings at No. 21. “Time to get back on the courts!”

Another American, No. 195 Mitchell Krueger, quoted Isner’s comment and wrote: “I can find you about 140+ players that are most certainly not ‘thrilled’ with this development.”

That’s a reference to the USTA’s decision to eliminate qualifying rounds that normally give lower-ranked singles players a chance to earn a spot — and extra money — in the U.S. Open field. The USTA is getting rid of qualifying and instead moving the Cincinnati hard-court tournament that it owns to New York ahead of the start of the U.S. Open.

Another reduction for 2020: The men’s and women’s doubles draws for the U.S. Open each will have 32 teams instead of 64. Overall player compensation for the U.S. Open and Cincinnati tournament, which includes prize money and hotel costs and $6.6 million to compensate players who would have been in qualifying in Flushing Meadows, will be $60 million; that’s about $7 million less than in 2019.

The tours are expected to reveal the restructured 2020 tennis calendar within the week. More than 40 tournaments at the sport’s highest levels have been scrapped so far and there likely will not be any sanctioned play until early August, although various exhibition matches with no rankings points at stake have been taking place around the world in recent weeks.

“We recognize the tremendous responsibility of hosting one of the first global sporting events in these challenging times,” USTA CEO Mike Dowse said in a statement released shortly after Cuomo’s announcement, “and we will do so in the safest manner possible, mitigating all potential risks.”

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 elimination of more than 100 jobs at the USTA, the association’s board decided to go forward with the U.S. Open.

“We can showcase tennis as the ideal social distancing sport,” Dowse said.

Cuomo opened Tuesday’s news conference by touting “good news on the numbers, good news on the facts” in New York, which he said has its lowest number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations since the outbreak began.

Last week, Djokovic said the restrictions that would be in place for the U.S. Open 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 virus restrictions last month.

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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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