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By Richard Pagliaro | Monday, June 15, 2020

Rafael Nadal

The USTA will stage the US Open as scheduled starting on August 31st, but will defending champion Rafael Nadal and world No. 1 Novak Djokovic play?

Photo credit: US Open Facebook

The 2020 US Open will be the world's first bubble-wrapped Grand Slam.

Main-draw action for the 2020 US Open will begin on August 31st as scheduled, according to published reports from ESPN's Peter Bodo and Forbes.

Report: Roland Garros to Drop Mixed Doubles, Legends Events

It will be the first Grand Slam contested since the coronavirus pandemic shutdown tennis in March and will feature safety protocols as the USTA aims to create a protective bubble around the event to try to ensure the health of players and staff.

"We're following each step in the [restart] procedure in the great hope that we can announce that the 2020 US Open will be played in its regularly scheduled date," Chris Widmaier, the USTA's director of communications, told ESPN. "We hope to make an announcement in the very near future."

Forbes reports agreements from the ATP and WTA to the US Open are "happening or almost there." 

The USTA is expected to formally announce the Flushing Meadows major will play as scheduled
—without fans and possibly mediaat the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

The question is: will the stars show up for in New York City, which was the epicenter for the coronavirus crisis, and adhere to the safety measures the USTA is implementing for what will be the most sterile—and most strange—US Open in history? Will international travel in August permit players and coaches to fly to New York and what will be the quarantine rules?

An indoor practice facility at the NTC served as a temporary hospital treating COVID-19 patients during the peak of the coronavirus crisis in New York City when nearby Elmhurst Hospital was overrun with cases.

Now, the USTA aims to create a safety bubble around the tournament to protect players and staff from the virus. 

Under the USTA's safety protocols for the Open, players will fly to JFK on private planes, stay at airport hotels and be prohibited from lodging in Manhattan or elsewhere. Players and officials will be tested for COVID-19 regularly and player entourages will be limited to a single coach.

Reigning US Open champion Rafael Nadal said last week if the Open were held this month, he would not be comfortable traveling to New York to play amid the current coronavirus crisis. With Roland Garros scheduled to start the week after the US Open ends, the 19-time Grand Slam champion faces the Herculean task of defending major titles in New York and Paris on two different surfaces back to back. 

"It is not ideal. Right now I would not like to go play a tennis tournament in New York," Nadal told the media in a Zoom conference last week. "But I do not know in two months because we do not know if the situation is going to improve. I am sure that the people who organize the tournament want that the event is safe and that the French Tennis Federation wants the same thing.

"They want to play if everyone is going to be safe. I trust that they will make the right decisions at the right time. If there is not total security, there is no sense in playing because we have to be responsible and lead by example.

Tennis Express

COVID-19 restrictions in New York State have been receding, but New York City is still in phase one of the state's regional phased reopening plan.

During phase one, large public gatherings are prohibited as are on-premise restaurant and bar service. Health clubs, gyms and fitness centers are not open while in phase one.

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic concedes he understands the USTA relies on the hundreds of millions of dollars the US Open generates to fund its programs. However the ATP Player Council president has expressed skepticism on the safety of playing Flushing Meadows suggesting he could skip the Open as well.

“The rules they told us we would have to respect to be there, to play at all, they are extreme,’’ Djokovic told Serbia’s Prva TV. “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.

“They want the tournament to go ahead at any cost for economic reasons, which I understand. But the question is, how many players are willing to accept those terms.”

Lower-ranked players ranging from Danielle Collins to Dan Evans assert superstar multi-millionaires like Djokovic and Nadal have a responsibility to support the sport and their peers and play the Grand Slams.

"It's great what the ATP did with the Relief Fund but there's nothing better than the prize money of the Grand Slams for the players to be receiving," Evans told BBC 5 Live. "This is the point where I think the players should really come together and Novak and Rafa should really be looking to help those players with lower ranks so they get a good pay day.

"It's obviously not all about money, it's health involved here, but if it's safe enough I don't think having just a coach is a good enough reason not to be going to a tournament."

Collins issued more pointed criticism on Instagram pointing out most players have been out of work since February and need the prize money.  

“No one has been able to play sanctioned events or make money since February,” Collins posted on Instagram. “Here we have an awesome opportunity with the US Open talking about proceeding with the event. …

"It’s easy when someone’s made $150 million throughout their career, to try to tell people what to do with their money, and then turn down playing in the US Open. For those of us who don’t travel with an entourage, we actually need to start working again. It would be nice to have the best player in the world supporting this opportunity and not spoiling it for players and fans!"

Given the fact the entire ATP Top 10 is European, will some players opt to skip Flushing Meadows and play Roland Garros, scheduled to start on September 20th, a week after the Open ends?

Djokovic, who has been practicing and playing on red clay for the Adria Tour, suggests players he's spoken with are more likely to return on European clay rather than American hard courts.

"The way things are, tennis will most likely return on the ground in early September," Djokovic told RTS TV. “At the moment, I think my clay court season will continue until September."


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