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By Richard Pagliaro | Thursday, April 16, 2020

 
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USTA CEO Mike Dowse says it's a "highly unlikely scenario" the US Open would played without fans.

Photo credit: US Open Facebook/USTA

The US Open is tennis' largest—and loudest—Grand Slam.

In this age of coronavirus self-distancing, it's "highly unlikely" the Flushing Meadows major will go mute and play without fans.

More: Why Tennis is Safest Sport for Coronavirus Comeback

USTA CEO Mike Dowse said today it's "a highly unlikely scenario" the US Open will be played in quiet, closed conditions without a crowd.

The US Open draws more than 700,000 fans annually.

New York City is the national epicenter for COVID-19. New York governor Andrew Cuomo has ordered New Yorkers to wear masks outside within six feet of others.

The USTA believes it's unrealistic to stage the tournament without spectators. Corporate boxes in Arthur Ashe Stadium are a vital revenue stream for the tournament.

A primary concern is the health risk of players and support staff even if fans were banned from the Open.

“Playing without spectators—we’re not taking anything off the table right now, but to be honest and open I think that’s highly unlikely," Dowse told the media in a conference call today. “That’s not really in the spirit of the celebration of tennis.

"And it also goes back to the health and well being of not just the spectators but of our players and support staff that help run the tournament. So unless the medical industry or medical experts come up with a solution that truly is fool-proof and safe, we don’t see that as an option."

Tennis Express

The ATP and WTA jointly announced continued suspension of the pro circuit until at least July 13th.

The fate of the 2020 US Open will be determined at a USTA staff meeting in June after consultation with medical, health and government officials.

"A time frame around June to make that [US Open] decision," Dowse said. "And the way we’re approaching it is through a medical advisory group.

"So we have five or six doctors that are consulting with us on a regular basis and based on that information we’ll make the decision whether it’s safe to play the tournament or not."



The USTA is currently planning to stage the tournament as scheduled August 31st-September 13th, however in a conference call with the media Dowse said all options are on the table.

"Having said that things are fluid. And if the medical experts come back and say here’s a fool-proof way of running a very safe tournament—unfortunately it has to be without fans—we may reconsider it at that point," Dowse said. "But it’s too early to kind of speculate on what the exact specifics will be at that time.

"To be 100 percent clear: we’re not taking anything off the table. But as of right now, I’d say [holding the US Open without fans] that’s a highly unlikely scenario."

Roland Garros, originally scheduled for May, made the unilateral decision to move to September 20th, one week after the US Open ends.

If that schedule stands it would create a mission impossible for reigning Roland Garros and US Open champion Rafael Nadal, who would be facing a massive challenge of defending successive majors on two different surfaces staged on two different continents in the same month.

There is the possibility of moving the US Open to October after Roland Garros is contested in September.

Though the New York City weather can be temperamental in October, the US Open boasts two stadiums— Arthur Ashe and Louis Armstrong—with retractable roofs.

The USTA reportedly receives more than $20 million annually from ESPN for US Open broadcast and digital rights. If ESPN faced a fall schedule without the revenue generated by its college football coverage would it exert influence for a fall US Open, even an Open closed to fans?

Ultimately, as New York continues to fight the coronavirus crisis, the USTA says one thing is clear: the health and safety of players, fans and staff will determine if the 2020 Open is contested.

"In one sense we're very fortunate that we're the fourth Grand Slam to go, so time is on our side at this point," Dowse said. "Obviously our ambition is to run the tournament. It's the engine that drives our organization, our governing body. Having said that, that won't be the driving factor.

"The driving factor will be the health and wellbeing of the players, the fans and our staff."

 

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