Serena Williams

Serena Williams
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Serena Williams to play U.S. Open without fans

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Here’s how all-in Serena Williams is on participating in the 2020 U.S. Open: She set up a practice area at her home with the new brand of hard courts being used at Flushing Meadows this year.

For all the doubts about which top players will actually enter the first Grand Slam tennis tournament of the coronavirus pandemic, the biggest name in the sport made clear Wednesday that she intends to be there when the main draw begins Aug. 31.

“Ultimately, I really cannot wait to return to New York,” Williams said in a video that was shown during the U.S. Tennis Association presentation of plans for its marquee event.

“I feel like the USTA is going to do a really good job of ensuring everything is amazing and everything is perfect and everyone is safe,” said the owner of an Open-era record 23 major singles titles. “It’s going to be exciting. It (will have been) six months since a lot of us have played professional tennis.”

The women’s and men’s tours have been suspended since early March because of the COVID-19 outbreak. The French Open was postponed from May to September, while Wimbledon was canceled for the first time in 75 years.

The USTA got the green light Tuesday from the New York state government to go ahead with its proposal for a scaled-down tournament. There will be no spectators, fewer events, fewer on-court officials and regular temperature checks and occasional nasal swabs for COVID-19. Most players — and their reduced entourages — will stay at two designated hotels, although more expensive private homes are also an option.

“I’ll certainly miss the fans, don’t get me wrong,” said Williams, a 38-year-old American. “Just being out there, and that New York crowd, and hearing everyone cheer. I’ll really miss that, getting me through some of those tough matches.”

Her backing for the tournament — she has won it six times and was the runner-up in 2018 and 2019 — is certainly a boost for broadcaster ESPN and perhaps will help sway other uncertain players to compete, too.

“It’s clear we’re extremely excited and appreciative she’s committed this early to play the tournament,” USTA CEO Mike Dowse said. “As we all know, she transcends tennis. She’s so much bigger than our sport.”

Defending men’s champion Rafael Nadal and both No. 1-ranked players, Novak Djokovic and Ash Barty, have expressed varying levels of concern about heading to New York. Simona Halep, a two-time major champion, said Wednesday she is leaning toward not playing.

“It’s a real mixed reaction right now,” Steve Simon, the CEO of the women’s tour, said in a telephone interview. “It’s going to be fluid, but we’re going to see an awful lot of players wanting to come back and play again if they can travel and obviously if they feel like it’s a safe environment to play in.”

New York was, at one point, the coronavirus epicenter in the U.S. — a facility housing indoor courts at the U.S. Open’s site in Queens was used as a field hospital with hundreds of beds at the height of the crisis — but cases have dropped significantly and the city has started reopening.

Tournament director Stacey Allaster said Williams was one of several people — including players, coaches and agents — she’s been in touch with via email, telephone or video calls about possible participation.

“Through the journey, and as word started to spread earlier this week that the event was happening, I did (hear) that they want to play and that they are training and that they’re comfortable with the plan,” Allaster said. “It will be an evolving journey and, ultimately, the athletes will decide. And we’re confident that who decides (to come) will put on a great show with great stars.”

Halep is currently ranked No. 2 and is the reigning champion at Wimbledon. She also won the French Open in 2018.

Her best showing at Flushing Meadows was a semifinal appearance in 2015.

“Given the conditions outlined in the U.S. Open announcement this morning, as of today I do not currently plan to play in NYC,” Halep said in a statement emailed to the AP. “However, as we know, this situation is fluid and that the conditions may change and improve before the entry deadline in mid July. I would like to underline that my decision is not set in stone.”

Another two-time major champion, Petra Kvitova, released a statement that indicated she has yet to decide whether to go to New York.

“Hopefully the COVID-19 numbers and conditions around travel restrictions continue to improve,” Kvitova said, “in order to make the decision to play an easy one.”

VIDEO: Coco Gauff delivers speech for racial justice

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Naomi Osaka is world’s highest-paid female athlete; two women in top 100

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Naomi Osaka supplanted Serena Williams as the world’s highest-paid female athlete. They are the only two women on the list of the top 100 highest-paid athletes, according to Forbes.

Osaka, the 22-year-old who won the 2018 U.S. Open and 2019 Australian Open, earned $37.4 million in prize money and endorsements in the last year, $1.4 million more than Williams and an all-time record for a female athlete, breaking Maria Sharapova‘s record $29.7 million in 2015, according to the report.

Forbes put Osaka No. 29 and Williams No. 33 on its annual list of 100 highest-paid athletes, which it will release in full next week. In 2017, 2018 and 2019, there was either one or zero female athletes in the top 100.

A tennis player has been the highest-paid female athlete on the list (when there has been a woman on the list) every year for the last two decades, including an 11-year run for Sharapova and Venus Williams and Martina Hingis before that.

Osaka reached No. 1 in the world after the 2019 Australian Open that January. She is now ranked No. 10, having lost in the third round, first round, fourth round and third round of the last four Grand Slams.

She is one of Japan’s most well known athletes going into the Tokyo Olympics, five years after being among the highest-ranked eligible female singles players to not make the Rio Olympic field.

MORE: Osaka can bring Japan tennis to forefront, 100 years after Olympic success

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Olympic tennis: Key questions for the Tokyo Games in 2021

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With the Tokyo Olympics postponed to 2021, OlympicTalk is taking a sport-by-sport look at where things stood before sports were halted and how global circumstances could alter the Olympic picture …

Where did Roger Federer stand on the Olympics?
Federer, whose biggest resume hole is an Olympic singles title, was publicly noncommittal about the Tokyo Games until declaring intent at an Oct. 14 press conference, fittingly at an exhibition in Tokyo. Though Federer hasn’t met the requirement of recent Davis Cup participation, he can still be added to the Olympic field through exceptions.

Federer’s best Olympic singles finish was silver at the 2012 London Games, though he took doubles gold with Stan Wawrinka in 2008.

“It’s not my No. 1 goal, or my No. 2 goal,” Federer said of an Olympic singles title in 2016, four months before withdrawing due to injury from what would have been his fifth Olympics in Rio. “It’s just something I’ve said, maybe I can reach that tournament and then see how it goes.”

Federer, 38, would break Swede Jonas Bjorkman‘s record as the oldest Olympic singles player since the sport was readded to the Games in 1988. Several players in their 40s played Olympic tennis in its previous iteration between 1896 and 1924, according to Olympedia and the OlyMADMen.

2021 Olympic Capsules: Track and Field | Swimming | Gymnastics
Beach Volleyball | Diving
| Basketball

Serena Williams is primed for another Olympics, but Venus is a question.
If Federer doesn’t break Bjorkman’s age record, Serena will. Venus, 39, would beat both of them, but when sports were halted, she ranked somewhere around 15th in the U.S. Olympic singles qualifying. Only four can go to the Olympics per country in singles.

However, Venus has a safety net: doubles. The U.S. can send two more doubles-only players per gender. Given Venus is the most decorated Olympic tennis player in history, and has a natural doubles partner in her little sister, it would make sense.

However, the U.S. Tennis Association has several strong doubles options. Its highest-standing doubles player in Olympic qualifying, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, plays with Sofia Kenin, who is the highest-ranked U.S. singles player. Under the 2020 Olympic qualifying rules, if a nation has any players ranked in the top 10 in the world in doubles after the French Open, the highest-ranked one automatically gets an Olympic doubles spot.

Then there’s Coco Gauff 

Coco Gauff likely wouldn’t have made the Olympic singles team in 2020, but in 2021?
Gauff, the 16-year-old American who became a household name last summer, is an interesting case. She ranked sixth in U.S. Olympic singles qualifying when sports were halted with half the points of Madison Keys, who was occupying the fourth and final U.S. spot. If Gauff played for any other nation, she would have been a near certainty to make the Olympics in 2020 in singles. For the U.S., it was a long shot.

But Gauff would have also been an intriguing doubles candidate for the USTA (and still could be in 2021). If Mattek-Sands gets one doubles spot, either Venus or Gauff could get the other. Or, if Mattek-Sands and Venus aren’t chosen, the doubles team of Gauff and Caty McNally would be an option.

Everything could be turned upside down, though. Olympic qualifying could be overhauled depending on when tennis resumes and how the International Tennis Federation alters qualifying. It’s possible that 2019 tournaments that were included in Olympic qualifying might no longer be counted for a Games in 2021. If more tournaments are added to Olympic qualifying, Gauff could benefit from the fact she will be older and have less restriction on the number of tournaments she can play.

MORE: Novak Djokovic’s career regret — the Olympics

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