This Year’s US Open Will Have A Different Look And Feel

WASHINGTON, August 19, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

No other US Open in history has ever been staged during the middle of a global health pandemic. Because of COVID-19, this year’s US Open, which begins August 31 at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, will be staged in a protective “bubble.” Players and their teams will be required to follow strict health and safety guidelines set forth by the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) in order to ensure maintaining a quarantine atmosphere between player hotels and private homes and the tournament site.

The same protocols being put in place for the US Open will also be in effect for the Western & Southern Open, an ATP/WTA mixed event, which starts this weekend and runs through August 28. The USTA moved the Western & Southern Open from Mason, Ohio, near Cincinnati, to Flushing Meadows, N.Y., for this year only to cut down on travel. It creates a unique New York tennis doubleheader.

What all of this also means is the Western & Southern Open and the US Open will take place over two weeks on empty stadiums, grandstands and courts with no fans – imagine 23,771-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium, the biggest in tennis, without any spectators – and the NTC grounds will be transformed to allow for space for the participants to dine, relax and enjoy non-tennis activities (bringing Manhattan to the National Tennis Center) while also maintaining social distancing. Masks will be the norm not the exception for all players and teams. After all, the United States remains the worldwide leader in the total number of coronavirus cases reported (5.47 million) and there’s been 171,000 deaths alone in this country from COVID-19.

According to US Open tournament director Stacey Allaster, approximately 90 percent of the tournament field has arrived and are “in residence.” Allaster said “generally, players have arrived early and are in a centralized environment.”

The USTA is overseeing the running of the Western & Southern Open as well as the US Open.

Despite a current low rate of infections in New York, coupled with the event organizers working overtime to create a strictly monitored environment for players and their teams, both men’s and especially women’s singles fields will be missing many familiar names, including women’s World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty and men’s World No. 2 Rafael Nadal, the defending men’s singles champion.

Currently, 90 of the Top 100 men are entered to play the US Open, including seven of the Top 10 players. Meanwhile, there are 81 of the Top 100 women in a field that features 10 former Grand Slam champions. Current No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 3 Karolina Pliskova are projected to be the top seeds.

While some notable absences from this year’s US Open are due to injury – such as Roger Federer and defending women’s champion Bianca Andreescu – it seems that many who will be absent are doing so out of concerns about traveling during the pandemic as well as schedule management that has made the ATP and WTA tour schedules, after a five-month hiatus, very crowded. The end of the US Open (Sept. 13) and the beginning Roland Garros (Sept. 27) come only two weeks apart as part of jam-packed pro calendar.

During a Tuesday morning conference call with reporters, Allaster along with USTA chief executive Mike Dowse, and Dr. Bernard Camins, a member of the USTA medical advisory group, stressed that there were three guiding principles during the go-no go decision-making process:

• 1. “Can we conduct a tournament in a healthy and safe manner for all those involved, from players, to staff, ultimately the local community here in New York?”

• 2. “Is hosting these tournaments in the best interest of tennis, and does it support our mission of growing and promoting the sport of tennis?”

• 3. “Does it make financial sense for the players, the USTA and the broader tennis ecosystem?”

“As consistent with our June 16 decision-making process, the answer continues to be yes to all three of these guiding principles,” said Dowse. “I want to reiterate this was never a host-at-all-cost approach. Our decision making has been driven by the three principles just shared. We will continue to follow these principles over the coming weeks.

“This truly will be exciting for tennis fans around the world to watch these great athletes compete for a Grand Slam title.”

Non-player tests positive for COVID-19

According to a statement released Tuesday by the USTA, a non-player has tested positive for COVID-19 “within the Western & Southern and US Open controlled environment. The individual is asymptomatic.”

This is the only positive test of the 1,400 tests administered for Tier 1 individuals, since testing began on August 13.

Muguruza pulls out of Western & Southern Open

Former No. 1 Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain, who was a finalist in this year’s Australian Open, has pulled out of the Western & Southern Open, which begins Saturday in New York, because of “discomfort in her left ankle.” Now, she’s uncertain about playing in the US Open that starts August 31.

“I hope I will be able to keep improving and compete at the US Open,” said Muguruza, a two-time Grand Slam champion. “I will work hard so I can be there in a few days.”

Muguruza, 26, last played in Doha and lost in the quarterfinals against World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty after stringing together wins over Daria Kasatkina, Ajla Tomljanovic and Dayana Yastremska. In five WTA tournaments this year, the Spaniard has compiled a 16-5 win-loss record.

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