When Novak Djokovic defeated Dominic Thiem in five sets to win the Australian Open back in the beginning of February, few would have thought we would have to wait until late summer for the next major to go ahead.
Despite major challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic, the United States Tennis Association has confirmed that the US Open will go ahead behind closed doors on its original dates of 31st August until 13th September.
Despite this good news for tennis lovers around the world, it appears this isn’t welcome news with many top-20 players of both sexes expressing their reluctance to travel to the USA.
In a normal tennis calendar year, the US Open would be the fourth and final Grand Slam tournament, but because of the pandemic, both men’s and women’s tours have been put on hold since March. The start of the French Open has been postponed until late September with potentially two slams being played almost back to back.
Players will be subject to strict coronavirus testing. Many will also be kept at a hotel outside Manhattan. There will also be restrictions placed on their movements to protect their health.
To limit the number of people at Flushing Meadows, the USTA is going to limit the amount of support staff that players bring to the tournament, possibly as few as just a single person.
Recently, the World’s top-ranked player Djokovic criticised the restrictions as “extreme”. Fair point to the Serb who along with the elite top players in the sport generally comes complete with an entourage of support people, but this is sport now being played in different and difficult times that we are living in.
Controversial Australian Nick Kyrgios says the USTA are being selfish by pressing ahead with the tournament. Kyrgios, who has been in lockdown in Australia since the pandemic bought a halt to the ATP tour posted on Twitter “People that live in the USA, of course, are pushing for it to go ahead. I’ll
get my hazmat suit ready for when I travel from Australia and then have to quarantine for two weeks on my return.”
Although Rafael Nadal said a couple of weeks ago that “if you ask me today, I will say no, I will not travel”. He may now have a change of heart after news came through recently that Roger Federer has already written off his season after undergoing a second operation on his knee.
Several top women’s players have also expressed their uncertainty about playing in the event, including Ashleigh Barty and second-ranked Simona Halep. World Number 3 Karolina Pliskova, a US Open finalist in 2016, said that she was confident the USTA could keep players safe. “At some point, the season needs to start.” she said.
The US Open singles qualifying tournaments are not expected to go ahead, but the USTA is providing over $2 million apiece to the men’s and women’s tours to compensate lower-ranked players affected.
The top players continued resistance to the US open’s safety protocols continues to be criticised by lower-ranked players including Great Britain’s Dan Evans and American no 26 Sachia Vickery who told sky sports “He should go and play a 60k event in Alabama, and then come back and let us know how hard the conditions are.”
“It’s a little selfish to say that,” she added “There are so many players who cannot afford to have seven or eight people travel with them. He’s earned the right to have as many people as he wants, but it’s an entire tour. If they have to make a few restrictions to be able to play again, I don’t think it’s a big deal.”
World No 7 Richard Gasquet said. “It is not catastrophic to come with one or two people for three weeks. It is not death, life is long. The important thing is that everyone can play, from 300th to No1.”
On a personal note, I thoroughly agree with both Vickery and Gasquet’s points. The cream of tennis has earned the right to expect the best conditions, but for the foreseeable future, this clearly won’t be able to happen. The elite must consider the players on the fringes of the top 20 and lower-ranked players also. These players need to qualify or play in every tournament possible to obtain the money that will mean the difference between staying in the sport and quitting something that they have cherished performing for a while.
This article was written exclusively for golear.co.uk