Serena Williams is the first marquee name to confirm her participation at the US Open, welcoming the news that the hard court Grand Slam will take place in New York from 31 August, albeit without fans, with delight.
We understand the needs of athletes. We just need to make sure that we navigate physical distancing and ensure that we keep everyone spread out and also everyone gets the proper training and preparation that they need. Stacey Allaster, US Open Tournament Director
“Ultimately, I really cannot wait to return to New York and play the U.S. Open 2020,” Williams said in a video message played during a United States Tennis Association news conference to announce arrangements.
“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.”
While a number of top players, including World No 1s Novak Djokovic and Ash Barty, along with reigning US Open men’s champion Rafael Nadal, are among those who have expressed concerns about playing in New York because of the strict health protocols due to the COVID-19 outbreak, organisers hope the risks will be allayed.
One sticking point is the number of support staff they can bring on site, which the USTA said it is still trying to sort out.
“We understand the needs of athletes,” US Open Tournament Director Stacey Allaster said during a video conference call from Arthur Ashe Stadium. “We just need to make sure that we navigate physical distancing and ensure that we keep everyone spread out and also everyone gets the proper training and preparation that they need.”
Allaster added that players who do not want to stay at one of the two designated hotels can rent homes in nearby Queen’s, but cannot stay in Manhattan.
The USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, home to the US Open, will also host the Western & Southern Open, which is normally held in Ohio, from 22 -28 August as part of efforts to stem the spread of the virus.
Testing will be conducted before travelling to the United States and 1-2 times per week at both events along with daily temperature checks.
During the US Open, which this year will not include a mixed doubles tournament, players and guests must wear masks when onsite unless practising or competing.
There will be linespersons for matches inside both Arthur Ashe and Louis Armstrong Stadiums but none on the other courts, where a chair umpire will work with HawkEye Live, the electronic line-calling system.
Should an athlete test positive, they will be isolated and cared for by a USTA medical professional, who will determine whether treatment can be done at the hotel or if the individual needs to be hospitalised.
“We all go into this understanding the risk and our responsibility,” Allaster said. “As in every year, the health and well-being of our athletes, their safety is paramount to our medical team and it will be unwavering during this event.”
The French Open will start a week later than it was first rescheduled to, with fans in attendance, from 27 September – 11 October, following the announcement of return-to-play schedules for both the ATP and WTA Tours.
With qualifying rounds set to be played in Paris from 21-25 September, the date change now gives players more time between the US Open and French Open.
“In the current, difficult climate, we are well aware that it is a privilege to be able to hold Roland Garros in its usual format,” said Bernard Giudicelli, FFT President.
“Especially since the qualifying tournament will help to financially support a category of professional players who have been severely affected by this unprecedented crisis.
“The responsible decision we made on March 17 to postpone the Roland Garros tournament until the autumn means that the 2020 clay season can be saved, providing the current situation continues to improve.”
Giudicelli also confirmed that, unlike the US Open, fans will be allowed to attend Roland Garros.
“It will be a number, a percentage which will be defined by mutual agreement with the public authorities,” he said. “This kind of option requires real cooperation with the public authorities. It is still premature to be able to give even an estimate today.”
In 2019, there were 520,000 paying spectators at Roland Garros.
The first event on the revamped WTA Tour, the Palermo Ladies Open, is set to start on 3 August, while the Washington Open in the American capital is set to begin on 10 August as the first ATP tournament held since the coronavirus-enforced break.
All ATP, WTA and International Tennis Federation (ITF) tournaments have been on hold since the Indian Wells Masters was cancelled at short notice in March.
Both the ATP an WTA Tours include clay-court tournaments to be played ahead of the French Open, with the Italian Open in Rome the week before set to serve as the warm-up event for both men and women.
The ATP is yet to announce a schedule beyond the French Open, but the WTA Tour is planning an Asian swing which will feature events in South Korea, China and Japan.
After Washington, the ATP Tour will skip the now cancelled Rogers Cup in Toronto, and head for New York for the relocated Cincinnati Masters and then the U.S. Open.
Once the US Open is over, the tour heads to Europe for clay courts events at the Madrid Open and Italian Masters in the run-up to the French Open.
“The calendar is subject to change and continued assessments will be made relating to health and safety, international travel policies, and governmental approval of sporting events,” said an ATP spokesman.
“All events will be held under strict guidelines related to health and safety, social distancing, reduced or no fans on-site.”
The ATP added that a further update on the Asia swing ahead of European indoor events, culminating with the season-ending ATP Finals in London, is expected in mid-July.
“Our objective has been to reschedule as many tournaments as possible and salvage as much of the season as we can,” said ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi, who called the new calendar ‘a truly collaborative effort’.
All competitions are expected to take place without spectators at present, with WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon saying it was imperative that tennis returned in ‘the safest environment possible’.
“For now, the vital energy of spectators in stadiums will be greatly missed, but our athletes are eager to return to competition and our broadcast and social media partners are exploring new ways to engage with our fantastic fans,” Simon added.
“It is our sincere hope and desire that we will be able to return to play this summer.”
The ITF World Tennis Tour will resume on 3 August 3 for women’s events and 17 August for the men’s events, and both will include singles qualifying, main draw singles and doubles rounds, the ITF announced on Wednesday, but a provisional calendar has not yet been finalised.
While the ITF is keen to see as many tournaments scheduled as possible in order to maximise playing opportunities for athletes around the world, it wants to ensure the health and safety of the athletes.
The decision for an event to be held will remain at the discretion of individual tournaments to determine if it is feasible for their event to go ahead, and with the appropriate health, safety and integrity infrastructure in place.
Tournaments will be played without spectators, unless local or national government regulations explicitly permit fans to attend sporting events.
The provisional schedule will be made available on itftennis.com and, as with the ATP and WTA provisional calendars, the ITF World Tennis Tour calendar is subject to change..
The ITF expects that approximately 80 per cent of its events that would normally have been scheduled during the August-September period will be played this year, and anticipates that more nations will apply to host tournaments as restrictions ease in those countries.
Ranking points have been frozen since 16 March 2020.
The ITF continues to discuss with the ATP and WTA Tours the most appropriate and fair reintroduction of ranking points across World Tennis Tour events.
At this stage, the planned resumption of international competition relates only to the men’s and women’s ITF World Tennis Tour.
The ITF is mindful that players competing on the junior tennis, senior tennis, wheelchair tennis and beach tennis tours want to resume international competition as soon as possible, and further updates will be provided regarding these tours in due course.
The ITF, ATP, WTA, United States Tennis Association and French Tennis Federation have worked in collaboration to form the new calendar.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult time for our sport and, while acknowledging that there will still be challenges ahead, we are pleased that international tour competition will be able to resume in August,” ITF President David Haggerty said.
“Restoring earning opportunities for athletes at the earliest possible opportunity – in a manner which protects the health and safety of all involved – has been a priority throughout this period.
“The sport has come together to support players financially during the pandemic and we will continue to work with our partners from across the tennis world – the tours, the Grand Slams and our 210 member national associations – as we aim to safely resume international competition.”