A week and a half ago, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic said he understood the economic reasons behind the USTA’s desire to stage the US Open, but wondered, “the question is, how many players are willing to accept those terms?”
It now appears that Djokovic, who initially expressed reservations when he first heard about the proposed restrictions, could be on board for the tournament after the USTA publicly announced its decision to move forward Wednesday, and shared more details about the protocols players would need to follow.
“I think that a lot of people were skeptical, especially for the U.S. events considering what the U.S. went through as a country during this pandemic. So a lot of people, including myself, were quite skeptical on whether it would happen or not,” Djokovic told Eurosport’s Tennis Legends Podcast.
“We are very glad that it is happening, of course, and it is very important that we provide opportunities, we provide jobs, we provide opportunities for players to compete. Because at the end of the day, this is what we do. As tennis professionals we love the sport; we are passionate about it. We miss competing and traveling and, at the end of the day, we miss being on tour. So, I think this is a very positive news.”
One of the initial issues Djokovic and several other top players expressed was being limited to one team member on site. Newly appointed US Open tournament director Stacey Allaster revealed in Wednesday’s press conference that each athlete will be allocated two hotel rooms (one covered by the tournament), and as part of that distribution, could “bring up to three additional guests at their choice.”
It was also confirmed that the Western & Southern Open would move from Mason, Ohio to New York, and played the week before the Grand Slam event. Allaster added that her team has a realtor readily available, should players wish to rent a private home during their extended stay—permitting those wishing to travel with larger groups that include family members or additional personnel. Manhattan would be excluded from the available selection, which require residences to be in less dense locations.
Djokovic later appeared on Tennis Channel Live Thursday, telling Steve Weissman and Paul Annacone, “The US Open is one of most important tournaments in the world, one of the sacred tournaments in the history of our sport. It's a tournament I've always enjoying playing. We have another two months until the start of the U.S. tournaments, so hopefully the measures and regulations as it stands today will be able to be different and loosen up a little bit, especially with the quarantine.”
In late May, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad F. Wolf signed an order that would provide, “foreign professional athletes who compete in professional sporting events organized by certain leagues, including their essential staff and their dependents, from proclamations barring their entry into the U.S.” a special exemption. Both the ATP and WTA tours were among the organizations the Department of Homeland Security stated it would work with to identify such athletes.
“The foundation of our international sport is that every player who has fought hard and deserved his place in the US Open is able to have an equal opportunity to arrive, fly to New York and compete. For me, this is fundamental,” said Djokovic. “Speaking about the US Open in general, for me personally, quarantine is not easy to accept, especially if you do not have access to the tennis courts and gym areas. All of us tennis players care about staying in shape. It's tough if you have to stay 14 days in quarantine and not be able to train.
“As I've heard from some people at USTA and ATP I've talked to in the last couple of weeks, it's highly likely that we will be able to go and use the courts during the quarantine if it stays there. Also, there is a possibility there is no quarantine for athletes coming in, which would be phenomenal. Right now, there is still plenty of time to decide if I go or not. I cannot tell you yes or no. I would love to go, of course, but still I have to see how it all plays out with the regulations.”
Dominic Thiem, who triumphed in Belgrade last weekend at the launch of the Serbian’s Adria Tour, was similarly hesitant upon first hearing about the constraints. The three-time major finalist said last week, “To be only able to take one person—a Grand Slam can be pretty demanding physically, and choosing whether to take your coach or physio... I think some circumstances would have to change to make sense to go there.”
Kitzbuhel, which is normally held at the end of July, was shifted to the second week of the US Open as part of the ATP's revised calendar update. Thiem signed a two-year contract in 2019 to play the ATP 250 clay-court event in his home country, but the ATP verified Wednesday, “Top 10 singles players will not be eligible to compete in Kitzbuhel unless they have played, and already lost, at the US Open.”
Servus Sport Aktuell reported that Thiem intends to restart his season at the relocated Western & Southern Open.
The reigning two US Open women’s finalists were among the first to disclose their support of the blueprint. After Serena Williams helped to announce the USTA’s news on Wednesday by appearing in a video message, the competitor who upstaged her in the final, Bianca Andreescu, published a message on Twitter.
“I have no doubt that the USTA has come up with the best plan to ensure our safety as we look to the return of tennis in 2020,” she stated.
“Returning to life as we once knew it is no longer an option. But, I plan to make the most of the opportunity to get back on the court, reconnect with players and friends and hopefully bring tennis back to the millions of fans across the globe safely.”
Andreescu has not competed since the 2019 WTA Finals Shenzhen, when she injured her left knee. The Canadian, who turned 20 on Tuesday, pulled out of next week’s Credit One Bank Invitational, a 16-player team exhibition in Charleston, S.C.