The French Grand Slam, rescheduled for 20 September to 4 October, is expected to be further delayed to accommodate the US Open and Madrid and/or the Italian Championships in Rome, in order to allow players two weeks of clay court preparation ahead of Paris.
We continue to be, I would say, 150 percent focused on staging a safe environment for conducting a US Open at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre in New York on our dates. It's all I wake up - our team wakes up - thinking about. The idea of an alternative venue, an alternative date... we've got a responsibility to explore it, but it doesn’t have a lot of momentum. Stacey Allaster, USTA Chief Executive Professional Tennis
Angelo Binaghi, President of the Italian Tennis Federation is optimistic about staging the Internazionali d’Italia in the latter half of September but accepts that if only one Masters 1000 spot becomes available before Paris, then Madrid would most probably be the one to prevail.
While pushing to host the Italian Master 1000 event at all costs, Binaghi is even considering moving it to Milan or Turin as an indoor tournament.
Wimbledon has already been cancelled this year, but the USTA says they have no intention of allowing the coronavirus crisis to wipe the US Open off the 2020 tennis calendar as well.
“We continue to be, I would say, 150 percent focused on staging a safe environment for conducting a US Open at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre in New York on our dates,” Stacy Allaster, the USTA’s Chief Executive Professional Tennis, told the Associated Press.
“It’s all I wake up – our team wakes up – thinking about. The idea of an alternative venue, an alternative date… we’ve got a responsibility to explore it, but it doesn’t have a lot of momentum.”
Tennis has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and has been at a total standstill since the start of March.
The Indian Wells Tennis Garden in California was recently touted as a potential alternative host venue.
The US Open attracted 850 000 spectators last year, but Allaster says it is ‘less and less likely’ spectators will be allowed inside Flushing Meadows if the tournament does go ahead.
Meanwhile, the players themselves will also be subject to strict monitoring.
“Once they come into our, let’s say, ‘US Open world’,” Allaster added. “There will be a combination of daily health questionnaires, daily temperature checks and some nasal or saliva or antibody testing.”
Should the USTA board decide to go forward with the Open, the main draw is scheduled to start on 31 August and an announcement should come from mid-June to end of June, Allaster said.
The ATP and the ITF have, like the WTA, suspended all sectioned events until the end of July at least.
Stuart Miller, who is overseeing the ITF’s return-to-tennis policy, said: “Everybody would agree to the fundamental principles, I’m sure: protecting the health of participants, following the local laws and minimising the risk of the transmission of the virus, but then you have to get down into the specific details.
“One such detail: The USTA wants to add locker rooms — including at indoor courts that housed hundreds of temporary hospital beds at the height of New York’s coronavirus outbreak — and improve air filtration in existing spaces.
“Also being considered: no locker-room access until just before a match.”
If anyone goes to Flushing Meadows just to train, Allaster said: “You come, you practice, and return to the hotel.
“The USTA presented its operational plan to a medical advisory group Friday; now that will be discussed with city, state and federal government officials.
“The fundamental goal here is to mitigate risk,” Allaster added.
Even if the US Open is staged without fans, the logistics are complicated.
“We are spending a lot of time and energy on all the models, including no fans on site,” Allaster said. “The government will help guide us.
“In 2019, about 850,000 people attended the US Open site from the week before the main draw through the finals.”
Lew Sherr, the USTA’s Chief Revenue Officer, told the AP it is less and less likely spectators would be admitted, resulting in forgoing ticketing sales, hospitality income, and reduced sponsorship revenues, but TV and digital rights fees, plus remaining sponsorship dollars, are significant enough that it would still be worth going forward.
Allaster said that having best-of-three-set matches in men’s singles has hardly been discussed.
“If the players came to us and said, ‘That is something we want to do,’ we would consider it,” she said. “But we will not make a unilateral decision on that without player input.”
Before travelling to New York, players would need proof of a negative COVID-19 test and they will have to endure a combination of daily health questionnaires, and daily temperature checks as well as some nasal or saliva or antibody testing.
While players may be exempt from 14 quarantine regulations, they will have to travel on special flights from Paris, Vienna, Frankfurt, Buenos Aires and Dubai among the cities where they could catch a flight to John F. Kennedy International Airport on an airline that is a tournament partner.
After the US Open, players might be taken to where they play next; tournament sites in later September could include Paris, Madrid or Rome.
“A player coming with an entourage of five, six, seven, eight is not something that’s in the plan,” Allaster said. “One possibility: Tournaments could provide physiotherapists and masseuses so players don’t bring their own.”
Matches could use fewer line judges than usual, with more reliance on line-calling technology while only adults, not kids, could serve as ball kids.
Petra Kvitova, who won the Czech Tennis President’s Cup on 28 May, says that while playing in presence of fans remains her preference, players also need the sport to resume.
“It’s tough to think about Grand Slams without fans,” she said. “It’s really tough because fans are very important for players … if we are playing Grand Slams without fans, it will be very sad.
“But still better to have a Grand Slam than no Grand Slams.”
Kvitova, currently ranked 12th, said she would not enjoy being in quarantine ahead of a tournament, if that were to be mandatory.
“It will be very difficult to be in quarantine in a foreign country and the hotel room for two weeks. It wouldn’t be very nice for sure,” she said, adding that it would be ‘great’ if tournaments restart in August. “So it will be a tough decision.
“We are all waiting to see what the future brings for us and we know that one day we’re going to be back.”
A contingency plan is also being discussed in the event that someone gets infected in New York, prompting play to be instantly halted, and placing the US Open in jeopardy of having to be abandoned and the site, players and attending support staff lock-downed.
There is also the real possibility that the American hard court is cancelled in its entirety, including the US Open, which could provide a chance to salvage the clay season almost in full.
So far there are more questions than answers with time running out.