Serena: ‘I Really Cannot Wait To Return To N.Y.’

WASHINGTON, June 18, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

In her first official duty as the new US Open tournament director on Wednesday, Stacey Allaster said, “It is my greatest pleasure to welcome a special guest to our first virtual US Open press conference.” Soon, 23-time Grand Slam and six-time US Open champion Serena Williams garnered everyone’s attention during the hour-long videoconference.

A huge announcement awaited everyone.

“This announcement has been on my mind all day,” said the 38-year-old Williams, ranked No. 9 in the world, measuring her words carefully. There was a smile on her face as she spoke from the kitchen of her Florida home. “Ultimately I really cannot wait to return to New York and play the US Open 2020.”

With Williams committed to play at this year’s US Open, scheduled from August 31 to September 13 at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., it was welcome news for the tournament organizers. After all, the women’s draw will have its biggest star power attraction – even though the remainder of the draw could be without some star power. In recent days, both World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty and World No. 2 Simona Halep have expressed reservations about playing in the first Grand Slam event since the Australian Open in early February.

“I feel like the USTA is going to do a really good job of ensuring, like, everything is amazing and everything is perfect and everyone is safe,” Williams said in her 48-second video message.

“It’s going to be exciting. It’s been over six months since a lot of us have played professional tennis. I’ll certainly miss the fans, don’t get me wrong. Just being out there in the New York crowd, hearing everyone cheer. I’ll really miss that, getting me through some of those tough matches. 

“This is crazy. I’m excited.”

Regardless of who the remainder of the 128-player women’s singles draw features, Williams, no doubt, will be determined to lift this year’s US Open trophy, which has eluded her since 2014. One need only recall her contentious 2018 final in which she lost to a young, upstart Naomi Osaka after coming to verbal blows with chair umpire Carlos Ramos, which resulted in her being issued three code violations. Now, it’s two years later, and if Williams is successful and wins her seventh US Open singles title, it would tie her with record-holder Margaret Court, whose 24 major singles titles is what Williams has been chasing after since returning from maternity leave over two years ago.

On Wednesday, the United States Tennis Association, which governs both the US Open and the Western & Southern Open that is part of the US Open Series of North American hard court tune-ups for Flushing Meadows, announced an unprecedented “doubleheader” will take place. First, the Western & Southern Open, which normally is played in Mason, Ohio, near Cincinnati, will move this year only to New York and be held starting Aug. 22. Then, the “Big Event,” the US Open, begins a week later. To accommodate the Western & Southern Open, there will be no qualifying draw for the US Open.

The US Open men’s and women’s singles draws will be set at 128 players each, including 120 by direct entry and eight wild cards. The men’s and women’s doubles draws will be capped at 32 teams and mixed doubles, along with wheelchair and junior tournaments have been eliminated from this year’s US Open fortnight.

Meanwhile, one big star who won’t be at this year’s US Open is Roger Federer. The 20-time Grand Slam champion – including five consecutive US Open titles from 2004-08 – will be missing after confirming last week that he recently underwent a second arthroscopic knee operation and will miss the remainder of the 2020 season. The status of the other two of the men’s “Big Three” – World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and World No. 2 Rafael Nadal – remains in doubt.

There’s no doubt concerning top-ranked American John Isner, currently No. 21. He looks forward to playing at Flushing Meadows, where he twice has reached the quarterfinals. On Wednesday, Isner wrote on Twitter: “Well done @usta for being so forward thinking in getting this done. A great achievement. Players and fans alike are thrilled with this development. Time to get back on the courts!”

Later, in an interview with New York Times tennis correspondent Christopher Clarey, Isner said: “I’m 100 percent in favor of the USTA’s decision. I think it’s important for sport to get back and this is a good opportunity to get tennis back in the mainstream.”

However, for every position reaction from the likes of Williams and Isner, there are skeptics, too. Earlier in the week, Australia’s John Millman wrote on Twitter: “I love the US Open but it seems a little crazy that we’re still contemplating playing a grand slam there, right?“

Millman’s fellow Aussie, the often-mercurial Nick Kyrgios, also took to Twitter by writing: “SMH – people that live in the US of course are pushing the Open to go ahead 🤦🏽‍♂️ ‘Selfish’ I’ll get my hazmat suit ready for when I travel from Australia and then have to quarantine for 2 weeks on my return.”

Finally, on a happier note, the last word – for now – belonged to celebrated career of Hall of Famer Billie Jean King, the namesake of the USTA’s National Tennis Center, who owns four US Open singles titles (three of them won during the Open Era). On Wednesday evening, King shared her thoughts on the upcoming 2020 US Open:

“When the U.S. Open begins on August 31 at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, it will shine a light on not only New York’s resiliency, but also on every person who has worked tirelessly to ensure the tournament begins on schedule, with the highest safety precautions in place. 

“I am incredibly excited to see the comeback of professional tennis and the much-needed boost it will bring to fans in New York and across the world. The U.S. Open prize money represents a significant part of players’ yearly earnings, so the return of tennis for fans also represents a return to work for players.”