With the cancellation of the French Open, Wimbledon, and the Olympics this summer, it has been almost six months since a Grand Slam Tennis Championship has been played. Minor tournaments have occurred with varying levels of success, but for the most part, high level tennis has been put on hold.
That all changed on June 16th with a statement from Mike Dowse, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director, stating that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had approved a plan to hold the 2020 U.S. Open at its normal venue, the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens.
“We recognize the tremendous responsibility of hosting one of the first global sporting events in these challenging times,” Dowse went on to say, “and we will do so in the safest manner possible, mitigating all potential risks. We now can give fans around the world the chance to watch tennis’ top athletes compete for a US Open title, and we can showcase tennis as the ideal social distancing sport.”
The tournament will obviously have plenty of modifications with the biggest of which being the absence of fans at any of the matches. Over the years the U.S. Open has garnered the reputation of being the rowdiest of the four majors with hecklers and other vocal spectators being far from a rarity. The New York Times even ran a feature on fans at The Open in 2011 titled “When Manners go Missing.” So, for better or worse, the tournament occurring with empty stands will certainly be a change of pace for everyone involved.
This is far from the only change we will see come late August. The USTA has put strict health protocols in place to ensure the safety of the athletes, coaches, and staff at The Open. All personnel inside the facilities must wear masks at all times, including players, except when practicing or training.
Players must also be tested both before coming to New York and once they have arrived throughout The Open, although no quarantine period will be mandated for those arriving. Hotel rooms will be provided for players near the venue, but they are not required to stay there.
The number of matches themselves have also been reduced. The qualifying rounds for singles have also been canceled, and the doubles competition pools reduced. Additionally, the wheelchair tennis competition has been canceled outright, which is a decision that received pushback from the tennis community.
Even broadcasting has seen a major change for the event in 2020. Previously, the semifinals and finals of both men’s and women’s singles had been broadcasted on NBC. Not this year though. It was announced recently that ESPN had acquired the exclusive rights to broadcast the entire tournament. This may not seem consequential, but it means that this will be the first U.S. Open in recent memory that the last two rounds will not be shown on national television.
The biggest unknown coming into The Open is the player pool. Many players have shown apprehension towards the idea of competing this summer with other attempted tournaments yielding multiple positive Covid-19 tests. The good news for the event is that it looks like Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, widely considered the two best players in the sport, will play, as they have entered into the warm-up event for the U.S. Open in Cincinnati.
However, Roger Federer will not play, although this is due to injury issues unrelated to the virus. The women’s side is a different story though. The top ranked player in the world, Ashleigh Barty of Australia, has opted out due to Covid-19 risks. Joining her in this decision are Bianca Andreescu and Naomi Osaka, who are ranked six and ten in the world, respectively.
The U.S. Open will begin on August 31; going until the championship match on September 13.