U.S. Open

Getty Images

Top-ranked Ash Barty to skip U.S. Open

Leave a comment

SYDNEY — No. 1-ranked Ash Barty says she has withdrawn from the U.S. Open because she is not comfortable with traveling during the coronavirus pandemic.

Barty is the biggest name yet to opt out of the Aug. 31-Sept. 13 Grand Slam tournament in New York because of the global health crisis.

“My team and I have decided that we won’t be travelling to Western and Southern Open and the U.S. Open this year,” Barty said in a statement to Australian Associated Press on Thursday. “I love both events, so it was a difficult decision but there are still significant risks involved due to COVID-19 and I don’t feel comfortable putting my team and I in that position.”

Barty, who won the French Open in 2019 for her first singles major, said she’s yet to decide on whether to play the clay court major. The French Open was postponed earlier in the year and rescheduled to start Sept. 27.

“I wish the USTA all the best for the tournaments and I look forward to being back in the U.S. next year,” Barty said.

It would be difficult for Barty to travel overseas because Australia has closed its international borders, and she’d expressed concerns more than a month ago about leaving the country to play tennis. Technically, Barty would have to receive permission from the Australian government to travel abroad, and flight options are limited.

Anyone returning to Australia also would have to spend two weeks in quarantine.

MORE: Olympic tennis: Key questions for Tokyo Games in 2021

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Serena Williams to play U.S. Open without fans

Serena Williams
Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

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

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.

VIDEO: Coco Gauff delivers speech on racial justice

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!