Six-time singles title-winner Serena Williams committed to play at this year’s US Open on Wednesday as US Tennis Association officials vowed they can safely stage the first Grand Slam since the coronavirus pandemic shutdown.
With some of the top men’s stars questioning the wisdom of the staging the event, the USTA said the event will go ahead as planned from August 31 to September 13 without spectators at New York’s National Tennis Center, which in April became a temporary hospital facility to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
“I really can’t wait to return to the US Open 2020,” Serena Williams said in a video message. “I think the USTA is going to do a really good job of ensuring everyone is going to be safe.
“This is crazy. I’m excited.”
Serena reached the finals of her home Major in 2018 and 2019, losing to Naomi Osaka and Bianca Andrescu respectively. She is one title short of equalling Margaret Court’s all-time Major tally (24).
The Flushing Meadows fortnight will be the first Grand Slam event staged since the deadly virus outbreak shut down global sport. Wimbledon was cancelled and the French Open was postponed until September.
The site will also host the ATP Western and Southern Open, typically staged in Cincinnati, the week before the US Open with a similar safety “bubble” that includes testing for players and their entourage.
Novak Djokovic has been among several top players critical of the idea of staging the US Open as scheduled given the severe US impact of Covid-19, although the major issues in the New York area have been declining for several weeks.
“It’s the right decision for tennis,” said USTA chief executive officer Mike Dowse. “Our fans told us unequivocally they’re excited to see the best players in the world.”
Players will be tested for Covid-19 when they arrive at the tournament hotel and at least once a week thereafter, with those electing to stay at private homes being tested more often as they enter the “bubble” area of the tournament.
The USTA expects an 80% drop in net operating income as a result of having no spectators for the US Open but will provide $60 million in prize money for the two events in New York combined plus another $3.3 million each to the ATP and WTA.
“We’re confident we can pull this off,” said Dr. Brian Hainline, USTA Medical Advisory Group chairman.
“We know how we can start doing things in a manner that doesn’t necessarily prevent one person from getting the disease but we can prevent a major outbreak of COVID-19.”
The USTA board of directors never discussed having players sign a waiver to participate, Hainline saying the possibility of contracting the virus inside the bubble was “highly unlikely.”
The US Open will have its regular draw of 128 players in men’s and women’s singles but doubles will have only 32 duos instead of the usual 64 and all players will play only doubles. There will be eight wildcard selections for singles but qualifying will not be contested.
“That extra load was outside the level of what we could handle,” said US Open tournament director Stacey Allaster.
Mixed doubles, junior events and wheelchair competitions were called off.
Technology will replace line judges on every court except the feature layouts of Arthur Ashe Stadium and Louis Armstrong Stadium. No children will be used to retrieve balls, with a reduced number used on outer courts. No media except telecasters will be permitted on site.
With nasal swab tests being used having near 100% reliability, Hainline declared, “There won’t be false positives.”
After all positive tests, a repeat test will be given within 24 hours to confirm. Those who are positive will be required to quarantine outside the event bubble.
Allaster said she would discuss what impact a late-round positive test would have for the tournament. It could produce a walkover just as an injury to a player would do.
\(With AFP inputs)