The Associated Press
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday the U.S. Open tennis tournament will be held on its scheduled dates starting in late August – but without spectators – as part of the state’s reopening from shutdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The U.S. Tennis Association had decided to go forward with its marquee event in New York City, pending an OK from the state.
“We’re excited about the U.S. Open, (which) is going to be held in Queens, Aug. 31 through Sept. 13. It will be held without fans, but you can watch it on TV – and I’ll take that,” Cuomo said at his daily briefing in Albany. “The tennis authorities are going to be taking extraordinary precautions, but that’s going to take place.”
Like many sports leagues, the professional tennis tours have been suspended since March because of the COVID-19 outbreak, wiping out more than 40 events around the globe.
Soon after Cuomo’s appearance, USTA CEO Mike Dowse released a statement confirming that the hard-court tuneup tournament normally held in Cincinnati in August would move to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows before the U.S. Open.
“We recognize the tremendous responsibility of hosting one of the first global sporting events in these challenging times,” Dowse said, “and we will do so in the safest manner possible, mitigating all potential risks.”
The U.S. Open normally is each season’s fourth and final Grand Slam tournament but would be the second of 2020, following the Australian Open, which concluded in early February.
The French Open was postponed from May and currently is scheduled to start a week after the U.S. Open ends. Wimbledon was cancelled altogether for the first time since World War II in 1945.
Even with the go-ahead from the state, one significant question remains for the U.S. Open: Which players actually will participate?
Such top names as both No. 1-ranked players, Novak Djokovic and Ash Barty, and defending men’s champion Rafael Nadal, have expressed reservations about heading to Flushing Meadows, where an indoor tennis facility was used as a temporary home for hundreds of hospital beds at the height of the city’s coronavirus crisis.
Already ruled out, regardless: Roger Federer, who has won five of his men’s-record 20 Grand Slam singles titles at the U.S. Open but announced recently that he is out for the rest of the year after needing a second arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.
With international TV contracts – including an annual average of $70 million from ESPN alone – helping offset the loss of money from ticket sales and other onsite revenue, and facing a recession that already led to the recent elimination of more than 100 jobs at the USTA, the association’s board decided to go forward with the U.S. Open despite concerns about COVID-19 and international travel.
Cuomo opened Tuesday’s news conference by touting “good news on the numbers, good news on the facts” in New York, which he said now has its lowest number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations since the outbreak began.
The USTA plan shared with his government includes limited player entourages; assigned hotels; increased cleaning at the tournament grounds; extra locker room space; daily temperature checks and occasional testing for COVID-19.
There would be no qualifying for singles and likely reduced fields for doubles. Players whose rankings would have put them in qualifying rounds that allow some men and women access to the 128-player singles draws will be compensated with funds the USTA will pass along to the ATP and WTA tours to distribute.
Last week, Djokovic said the restrictions that would be in place for the U.S. Open because of the virus would be “extreme.”
“Most of the players I have talked to were quite negative on whether they would go there,” Djokovic said.
He hosted exhibition matches with packed stands last week in his home country of Serbia, where the government lifted most virus restrictions last month.
Associated Press Writer Marina Villeneuve in Albany, New York, contributed to this report.