When New York City became an epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, the USTA stepped up by transforming the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center into a makeshift hospital for patients and a food commissary to provide meals for frontline workers.
While traditional tour tennis was halted on March 8 and has since seen Wimbledon canceled and the start of Roland Garros moved to September 27, the US Open still occupied its usual spot on the calendar when its venue conversion moved forward. A few days ago, after operating for a little over a month, the final patient at Flushing Meadows was treated and released.
Workers have begun tearing down the temporary operation, taking necessary measures to get the facilities ready for reopening when possible. On Monday, US Open organizers may have received an additional lifeline, after Governor Andrew Cuomo tweeted the following statement.
“New York State is ready and willing to partner with major sports teams that are interested in playing games safely, without fans. If our professional sports teams can make it work (and be safe) on their end, we’re supportive,” he wrote.
Cuomo may not have addressed events like the US Open, but his call to action could very well be the start of more to come. Initially in mid-April, USTA CEO and Executive Director Michael Dowse publicly shared the governing body’s reservations with staging the event behind closed doors, saying it was a “highly-unlikely scenario”. It wasn’t a huge surprise: in 2017, according to figures presented by Forbes, ticket sales accounted for 36 percent ($120 million) of that year’s total tournament revenue ($335 million), with an additional 9 percent ($30 million) coming from concessions and merchandise.
A couple weeks passed, before Dowse informed Inside Tennis that options such as relocating the tournament to Indian Wells in November, or playing in Queens without its bustling crowds on the grounds were not off the table. For him, three key factors would drive the final outcome. “1) The health and well-being of the players, staff, fans and all those involved; 2) What’s good for tennis; and 3) the financial impact.”
Last Thursday, The Telegraph reported that moving the major tournament to the USTA National Campus in Orlando was the latest “theory”, though USTA has not commented on that publicly to our knowledge. Over the past three weeks, a mix of non-traditional events have popped up in Europe and the U.S. This weekend, Alison Riske, Danielle Collins, Ajla Tomljanovic and Amanda Anisimova will compete in the first women’s installment of the UTR Pro Match Series, a three-day tournament in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Dowse has been consistent with proclaiming USTA's decision will come sometime in June, but with Cuomo’s declaration, is the ball now back in New York’s court to host the first major in the coronavirus era? A lot will depend on factors well beyond his scope, from travel restrictions and testing precautions to players being competition ready for a Slam. A least for now, hope remains—something we could all use a little bit more of.