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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, May 1, 2020

 
Boris Becker

"I don't think it would be wise to have a tournament there," Boris Becker says of the US Open.

Photo credit: @QueensClub

The US Open baseline is now a frontline in the coronavirus war.

A section of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center has been converted into a temporary hospital to help treat patients suffering from COVID-19.

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Hall of Famer Boris Becker says given New York City's status as a coronavirus epicenter, officials should pull the plug on the 2020 US Open.

“It’s the only Grand Slam still standing, but New York was pretty much the worst city hit by the virus a couple of weeks ago," Becker told Laureus.com in an interview on COVID-19's impact on tennis. "I don't think it would be wise to have a tournament there."

Becker's comments come days after 19-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal said he's "very pessimistic that the circuit can resume a normal activity."

"In tennis, you need to travel every week, stay in hotels, go to different countries," Nadal said. "Even if it we play without an audience, to organize any event you need a lot of people involved, which cannot be ignored. At an international level I see a serious problem."

Wimbledon cancelled for the first time in 75 years.

Roland Garros, originally scheduled for May, unilaterally moved to September 20th—one week after the US Open ends.

For now, the Flushing Meadows major is still scheduled to start on August 31st, however given the pro circuit is suspended until at least July 13th and experts say a COVID-19 vaccine is still months away the US Open's status is uncertain. 

US Open organizers shot down reports they were considering moving the tournament to Indian Wells or contemplating shifting the tournament to October, after the rescheduled Roland Garros ends.

"We understand that there is a great deal of speculation regarding the USTA’s planning for the 2020 US Open," organizers announced on the US Open website. "We would like to clarify that while we are exploring every possibility around the US Open, the potential to shift the event location or date is not at the forefront at this point in time.

"Paramount with all our decisions regarding the US Open will be the health and safety of all those involved, in any capacity, with the tournament. We are in continual contact with New York State and New York City officials and agencies, and are meeting weekly with our Medical Advisory Group to learn as much as we can and to properly assess this shifting situation."

USTA CEO Mike Dowse told the media in a conference call 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.

The USTA believes it's unrealistic to stage the tournament without spectators.  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. “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."

Regardless of whether the 2020 US Open is played or not, Becker believes the coronavirus-induced shutdown of the sport has given governing bodies, players and fans a different perspective.

The former world No. 1 asserts unity is the clear path forward for the game and supports Roger Federer's proposal of eventually merging the ATP and WTA into one unified tour.

“Roger Federer started the ball rolling with his splendid idea of joining forces and I think Nadal agrees," Becker told Laureus.com. "Not every top guy agrees, that's fine, but I think Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have a strong following. For Federer to suggest that, speaks for his intelligence and also that he truly cares about the game.

“Just think of the equal prize money we have in the majors. You know men and women earn the same which I don’t think is happening in every sport. We are always progressive about going with the times, with equal rights, certainly on the tennis court."

Tennis Express

The three-time Wimbledon champion, who has been in lockdown in his London home, says a unified Tour will be a major step forward for the sport.

“So a joint organization—[Federer] meant ATP and WTA—would be the next step. It's a big step," Becker said. "He suggested maybe having joint tournaments. We already have a few. In the US in Miami, you have men and women participating around the same time.

“The other ones, talking about the Masters series, are not there yet, but obviously would, in my opinion, be a step in the right direction. Once we get out of the tunnel, the new normal will be different. We still lie in a position to control the future if we get together and work together."

 

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