In June, eager fans flocked to Belgrade and Zadar to soak up live tennis in person. Stands were packed for the opening weekend of the Adria Tour in Serbia, but with no social distancing measures in place, the optics presented widespread criticism and concern. A week later, those sentiments were magnified when organizers were forced to call off the remainder of the planned four-weekend series after Grigor Dimitrov announced he tested positive for COVID-19, the first of several participants to contract the virus.
On Friday, The DraftKings All-American Team Cup became the first tennis event in the U.S. to endeavor welcoming fans to its stands in the coronavirus era—one that is hardly showing signs of slowing down, especially in the States. The same questions and trepidations that dominated the Adria Tour conversation are ever present, and at best, one can hope constructive lessons are taken away and paired with note-taking from other exhibitions that succeeded in safely hosting players.
Staged at the Life Time Peachtree Corners just outside of Atlanta, the three-day tournament followed in the footsteps of a southeastern neighbor, Charleston, S.C., by grouping players into two teams and increasing the stakes each day, with Friday awarding one point per win, Saturday two points and Sunday three points. The eight highest-ranked Americans at the time the ATP rankings were frozen in mid-March were divided into Team Stripes (‘veterans’), captained by John Isner, and Team Stars (‘young guns’), led by Frances Tiafoe. Scheduling throughout the Fourth of July weekend consists of a day and night session featuring two matches apiece.
With attendees required to have temperatures checked along with the completion of a CDC symptom questionnaire prior to entering, specific rows blocked off and groups separated across bleachers, it was clear that some precautions were in place for the players visiting the Georgia state capital. In between sets, the winning competitor provided insight to the crowd by speaking into a microphone rigged on an extended pole. Protocols that had been adopted by previous events, such as players calling their own lines and using their own set of marked balls, continued with what has morphed into the new normal over the past two months. Fans were not required to wear masks when watching in sticky, blistering conditions, and there was noticeably more people in attendance for the evening session when Isner took on Taylor Fritz.
After Day 1, Team Stripes leads 3-1
Match 4: Steve Johnson (Team Stripes) d. Reilly Opelka (Team Stars), 6-4, 4-6 [10-5]
Johnson rebounded nicely in the decisive tiebreak, opening an early lead. Opelka had won a Fast4 meeting earlier in the week at the Altec/Styslinger Foundation Exhibition in Miami, but Johnson flipped the script to extend his team's
"We had such a long layoff, so it's kind of hard to get those competitive juices going," Johnson told Tennis Channel. "Miami maybe didn't go my way, but it was good to be back out there, get the feeling how to play, how to compete. I'm just really happy with my growth this week."
Match 3: John Isner (Team Stripes) d. Taylor Fritz (Team Stars), 6-3, 6-4
One third of Isner's 15 ATP titles have come in Atlanta and he spent four years up the road in Athens at the University of Georgia, so it was no surprise to see him feel at home Friday night. With his serve firing from all cylinders, the 35-year-old was rarely under pressure, enabling him to ride to victory with a break of serve in each set.
"When he goes back, it really is an invitation for me to serve and volley," Isner explained. "He's going back to give himself more time, but if he hits that return in play, it's coming from a long way's away. He did that to me Acapulco when I was up 4-3 serving in the second set, after winning the first set, and he turned the tide in that match."
Paul led 7-5 in the match tiebreaker, but Sandgren kept plugging away to keep with his compatriot. Down 8-9, he saved a match point with a confident forehand to end an extended rally, then put his team on the board with a big serve out wide that Paul was unable to get in play.
"Honestly, his second serve was bouncing pretty good and I wasn't getting a handle on that at all," Sandgren said. "I moved back a touch to give myself a little extra time, but still being aggressive. I thought that adjustment actually helped out a lot."
Match 1: Frances Tiafoe (Team Stars) d. Sam Querrey (Team Stripes), 6-4, 7-6 (5)
Captain Tiafoe required a lengthy medical timeout early in the second set, and soon after returning to the court, saw his break lead evaporate. But in the tiebreaker, after missing a forehand on his first match point, the 22-year-old curled a cross-court backhand past the charging Querrey to clinch the victory.
"It was tough. I was playing well, but I hit a serious wall," Tiafoe said. "I honestly thought I was going to retire but I started to push for the fans. I didn't want to be that guy to stop short. I came back out and was hanging by a thread."