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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Olympian Derrick Mein ends U.S. men’s trap drought at shotgun worlds

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Tokyo Olympian Derrick Mein became the first U.S. male shooter to win a world title in the trap event since 1966, prevailing at the world shotgun championships in Osijek, Croatia, on Wednesday.

Mein, who grew up on a small farm in Southeast Kansas, hunting deer and quail, nearly squandered a place in the final when he missed his last three shots in the semifinal round after hitting his first 22. He rallied in a sudden-death shoot-off for the last spot in the final by hitting all five of his targets.

He hit 33 of 34 targets in the final to win by two over Brit Nathan Hales with one round to spare.

The last U.S. man to win an Olympic trap title was Donald Haldeman in 1976.

Mein, 37, was 24th in his Olympic debut in Tokyo (and placed 13th with Kayle Browning in the mixed-gender team event).

The U.S. swept the Tokyo golds in the other shotgun event — skeet — with Vincent Hancock and Amber English. Browning took silver in women’s trap.

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Mo Farah withdraws before London Marathon

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British track legend Mo Farah withdrew before Sunday’s London Marathon, citing a right hip injury before what would have been his first 26.2-mile race in nearly two years.

Farah, who swept the 2012 and 2016 Olympic track titles at 5000m and 10,000m, said he hoped “to be back out there” next April, when the London Marathon returns to its traditional month after COVID moved it to the fall for three consecutive years. Farah turns 40 on March 23.

“I’ve been training really hard over the past few months and I’d got myself back into good shape and was feeling pretty optimistic about being able to put in a good performance,” in London, Farah said in a press release. “However, over the past 10 days I’ve been feeling pain and tightness in my right hip. I’ve had extensive physio and treatment and done everything I can to be on the start line, but it hasn’t improved enough to compete on Sunday.”

Farah switched from the track to the marathon after the 2017 World Championships and won the 2018 Chicago Marathon in a then-European record time of 2:05:11. Belgium’s Bashir Abdi now holds the record at 2:03:36.

Farah returned to the track in a failed bid to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, then shifted back to the roads.

Sunday’s London Marathon men’s race is headlined by Ethiopians Kenenisa Bekele and Birhanu Legese, the second- and third-fastest marathoners in history.

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