Over the past five weeks, the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association have released specific plans for completing their coronavirus-interrupted seasons; German Bundesliga soccer returned, with England’s Premier League to follow in a matter of hours; NASCAR auto races and PGA golf tournaments have been held in the United States. (Major League Baseball? Don't ask.)
Professional sports are resuming around the world, and with a variety of tennis exhibitions involving ATP and WTA players having already taken place, it seemed only a matter of time before the most global of games moved into its next phase of reopening.
Today, that hope officially became a reality, with the USTA’s announcement that the 2020 US Open will go on as scheduled, from August 31 to September 13 in New York City—albeit with some significant alterations given the still-threatening coronavirus pandemic:
—The tournament will be held without fans.
—The men’s and women’s singles draws will remain at 128 players, but the men’s and women’s doubles draws will be reduced to 32 teams.
—There will be no mixed doubles tournament, singles or doubles qualifying tournament, junior tournaments or wheelchair tournament.
Perhaps just as noteworthy, Serena Williams confirmed during the USTA's press conference from Arthur Ashe Stadium that she will compete in the US Open.
In addition, the Western & Southern Open, normally held two weeks prior to the US Open, will be relocated to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. In an effort to reduce player travel, the ATP and WTA tournaments will be held from Saturday, August 22 to Friday, August 28—the final just three days before the start of the US Open—with a 48-player qualifying tournament. A 32-team doubles event will also be held.
Why is there a qualifying tournament for the Western & Southern Open, but not for the US Open? Likely, to give the many players outside of the main-draw cut line that traveled to New York a chance to compete in another tournament—this one boasting just a main draw of just 56 players.
“We are incredibly excited that Governor Cuomo and New York State have today approved our plan to host the 2020 US Open and 2020 Western & Southern Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center," Mike Dowse, USTA Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director, said in a statement on Tuesday. “We recognize the tremendous responsibility of hosting one of the first global sporting events in these challenging times, 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. Being able to hold these events in 2020 is a boost for the City of New York and the entire tennis landscape.”
The long-rumored move of the Western & Southern Open was just part of the revised ATP and WTA calendars, which were released during the USTA's press conference.
The ATP has issued a revised provisional calendar that sets a pathway for the resumption of the Tour.— ATP Tour (@atptour) June 17, 2020
The new-look ATP Tour calendar intends to resume on Friday 14 August.
—The WTA Tour will resume on August 3 with the Palermo Ladies Open in Italy.
—The ATP Tour will resume on August 14 with the Citi Open in Washington, D.C.
—After the US Open, a short swing of clay-court tournaments will be held, including Madrid and Rome, before the main draw of Roland Garros begins on September 27. A qualifying tournament will be held from Monday, September 21 through Friday, September 25.
“We are delighted that our discussions with the various international tennis authorities have allowed us to extend the 2020 edition of the Roland-Garros tournament to three weeks,” said Bernard Giudicelli, President of the French Tennis Federation. “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. 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 17th March to postpone the Roland-Garros tournament—the climax of the clay season—until the autumn means that the 2020 clay season can be saved, providing the current situation continues to improve.”
—The WTA Tour has confirmed a swing of tournaments in Asia after Roland Garros; in a tweet, the ATP Tour said, "A further update on the intended schedule beyond Roland Garros, including a possible Asia swing ahead of the European indoor swing culminating with the season-ending #NittoATPFinals in London, is expected in mid-July."
Those are the knowns. The biggest unknown right now is the US Open field itself. For while the vast majority of players appear eager to return to competition, some of tennis’ most preeminent names have shared reservations about traveling to an overseas tournament in the United States’ original COVID-19 epicenter, regardless of the precautions.
Novak Djokovic, to Serbia’s Prva TV: “The rules that they told us that we would have to respect to be there, to play at all, they are extreme. We would not have access to Manhattan, we would have to sleep in hotels at the airport, to be tested twice or three times per week.”
Simona Halep, to Christopher Clarey of the New York Times, after Wednesday's press conference:
This today from world No. 2 Simona Halep, leaving door ajar but only ajar to playing in the 2020 US Open pic.twitter.com/BGdNJjEDwc— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) June 17, 2020
Nick Kyrgios, on Twitter: “The ATP is trying to make the US Open go ahead. Selfish with everything going on at the moment. Obviously Covid, but also with the riots, together we need to overcome these challenges before tennis returns in my opinion.”
Here are some of the coronavirus-related protocols in place for the 2020 US Open, according to Tennis Channel's Jon Wertheim:
—Transportation from designated player hotel(s) to the National Tennis Center via bus at 25-50% capacity.
—"Suites will be available as private lounge areas for the top 32 seeds. As they become available, they will go to the next highest ranked player."
—COVID-19 testing will be required before travel to the U.S. and throughout the tournament, with 1-2 tests given per week.
—"If a player tests positive or shows symptoms, he/she will be isolated and we will follow medical protocol as recommended by the CDC."
—Face masks will be required unless a player is practicing, competing or training.
On a recent conference call, Rafael Nadal said he wouldn’t feel comfortable traveling to New York today, but “hopefully” would in the coming months. And Roger Federer won’t be playing at all, after an injury setback.
Ensuring a strong field will remain a challenge all the way up to the tournament’s entry deadline. But the fact that there’s a US Open at all is a significant challenge tennis has already surmounted.
We will continue to update this developing story.