New York | A decision on US Open fate expected in June

The new CEO of the USTA, Mike Dowse, who took on the role on 1 January, has revealed a decision as to whether to postpone or cancel the US Open because of the coronavirus pandemic can be expected by June, but added that the prospect of holding the hard court Grand Slam without spectators is ‘highly unlikely’.

Playing without spectators, we're not taking anything off the table right now, but to be honest and open, I think that's highly unlikely. That's not really in the spirit of the celebration of tennis. It also goes back to the health and wellbeing of not just the spectators but of our players and support staff that help run the tournament. Mike Dowse, USTA CEO

“Obviously our ambition is to run the tournament. It’s the engine that drives our organisation, our governing body,” he said. “Having said that, that won’t be the driving factor.

“The driving factor will be the health and well-being of the players, the fans and our staff.”

The professional tennis season has, like most major sport, been left in disarray amid in the spread of Covid-19, with no tournaments held since the start of March and play not resuming until at least 13 July, leading to the cancellation of many events, including Wimbledon for the first time since the Second World War.

The US Open, which is scheduled to run from 31 August to 13 September, is the fourth and final Grand Slam on the tennis calendar and is famous for its boisterous crowds and late night sessions.

“Playing without spectators, we’re not taking anything off the table right now, but to be honest and open, I think that’s highly unlikely,” Dowse added in a conference call.

“That’s not really in the spirit of the celebration of tennis. It also goes back to the health and wellbeing of not just the spectators but of our players and support staff that help run the tournament.”

The US Open is held annually in New York City, which is the hardest hit US city in the coronavirus pandemic and this week revised its official Covid-19 death toll sharply higher to more than 10,000.

The USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, which is the home of the US Open, has turned its 12 indoor courts into a temporary hospital and Louis Armstrong Stadium into a commissary producing 25,000 meals a day for frontline workers and patients to help in the battle against the coronavirus.

Last year’s US Open drew an all-time attendance record of nearly 740,000 fans and the event is the engine that drives the USTA, which is governing body for the sport in the country.

The French Open, the first Grand Slam to be hit by the spread of the coronavirus, moved the clay court event to 20 September to 4 October from its traditional May slot in the calendar.

“Time is on our side at this point,” said Dowse. “Obviously our ambition is to run the tournament.”

The USTA is being advised by a medical advisory group that includes at least five doctors.

“Things are fluid. If the medical experts come back and say here is a foolproof way of running a very safe tournament, unfortunately it has to be without fans, we may reconsider and look at it at this point.

“Today it’s just too early to kind of speculate on what the exact specifics will be at that time.”

Tournaments are dependent on ticket, merchandise and on-site food sales as a percentage of revenue as well as funding from TV contracts.

Dowse also discussed the USTA’s plan to oversee a commitment of more than $50 million to help tennis deal with the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak at the grassroots level.

He said a survey conducted in March found that 85% of tennis facilities around the United States were closed because of stay-at-home orders, and he estimated that to be more like 90% now.

Dowse said the USTA is shaving more than $15 million from its budget by reducing salaries of its management and eliminating programs in player development and marketing, including money saved by temporarily closing the USTA national campus outside Orlando, Florida, last month.

The total future support provided by the USTA and its industry partners, including economic assistance packages and a telephone hotline for those ‘emotionally impacted’ by the pandemic, will be affected by the financial success of the 2020 US Open, even if it is held.






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