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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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Sam Mikulak to retire from gymnastics after Tokyo Olympics

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Sam Mikulak, the U.S.’ top male gymnast, said he will retire after the Tokyo Olympics, citing a wrist injury and emotional health revelations during a forced break from the sport due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It does sound like some pretty crazy news, but there’s a lot of factors that go into it,” Mikulak said in a YouTube video published Sunday night. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it during quarantine.”

The 27-year-old is a two-time Olympian, six-time U.S. all-around champion and the only active U.S. male gymnast with Olympic experience.

Mikulak said he noticed significant wrist inflammation last year that was temporarily healed by a November cortisone shot. But during quarantine, the wrist worsened even though he wasn’t doing gymnastics. He took a month off from working out, but the wrist didn’t heal.

He thought for a time that he might not return to gymnastics at all. A doctor told him he would need cortisone shots for the rest of his career.

“At that point, it was really made for me that this has to be my final year of gymnastics because I don’t want to ruin myself beyond this sport,” Mikulak said.

Mikulak also noted realizations from the forced time out of the gym. He learned that he’s much less stressed while not doing gymnastics, a sport he began at age 2. Mikulak’s parents were gymnasts at Cal.

“For so long, I’ve been sacrificing, and I’m sick of it,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to being able to be free from gymnastics and being able to do all these things that I’ve been putting off in my life for so long.”

Mikulak realized a career goal in 2018 when he earned his first individual world championships medal, a bronze on high bar. He wants to cap his career with a first Olympic medal in Tokyo, then, perhaps, become a coach or open his own gym.

Mikulak recently got engaged to Mia Atkins, and they got another puppy, Barney.

“Everything I’ve done in gymnastics is enough for me right now,” said Mikulak, who plans to document the next year on YouTube. “I was actually somewhat happy that I was able to come to that type of decision because for so long I felt like gymnastics really wasn’t going to be fulfilling until I’ve gotten my Olympic medal. And during quarantine, I had this whole revelation where, you know what, I am happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life, and I’m not doing gymnastics, so even if I don’t accomplish these goals, I am still going to be so damn happy.”

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April Ross, Alix Klineman complete perfect, abbreviated AVP season

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April Ross and Alix Klineman consolidated their position as the U.S.’ top beach volleyball team, completing a sweep of the three-tournament AVP Champions Cup on Sunday.

Ross, a two-time Olympic medalist, and Klineman won the finale, the Porsche Cup. They won all 12 matches over the last three weekends, including the last 14 sets in a row, capped with a 21-18, 21-17 win over Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil in Sunday’s final.

“It feels like we’re midseason in a normal year,” Ross said on Amazon Prime. “I can’t believe it’s over.”

The AVP Champions Cup marked the first three top-level beach volleyball tournaments since March, and a replacement for a typical AVP season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The setting: on the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center parking lot without fans and with many health and safety measures.

AVP is not part of Olympic qualifying. It’s unknown when those top-level international tournaments will resume, but Ross and Klineman, ranked No. 2 in the world, are just about assured of one of the two U.S. Olympic spots.

According to BVBinfo.com, they’re 10-0 combined against the other top U.S. teams — Claes and Sponcil and triple Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat, who are likely battling for the last U.S. Olympic spot.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who do not play on the AVP tour, have a lead for the last spot more than halfway through qualifying, which runs into June.

Earlier in the men’s final, Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb kept 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena from sweeping the Champions Cup. Bourne and Crabb prevailed 21-17, 15-21, 15-12 for their first AVP title since teaming in 2018.

Bourne, who went nearly two years between tournaments from 2016-18 due to an autoimmune disease, and Crabb redeemed after straight-set losses to Dalhausser and Lucena the previous two weekends. Crabb guaranteed a title on Instagram days before the tournament.

“Those guys are the best in the world, and they make you look bad at times, but we’re relentless,” Bourne said on Amazon Prime. “You’re going to have to play the best volleyball in the world to beat us every time.”

Bourne and Crabb, Dalhausser and Lucena and Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb (Trevor’s younger brother) are battling for two available U.S. Olympic spots in Tokyo.

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