Serena Williams commits to US Open as USTA unveils plans

Serena Williams (Credit: Getty Images)

The United States Tennis Association has unveiled its plans for this year’s US Open and gained a significant boost with confirmation that six-time champion Serena Williams will compete in the grand slam.

However, it remains unclear how many other tennis stars will take part in the event, which will be officially held at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, New York, from August 31 through September 13.

Roger Federer has announced he will skip the remainder of the year due to injury, while the likes of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Ashleigh Barty, and Simona Halep have all expressed reservations about traveling to New York in the wake of the global Covid-19 pandemic.

“Given the conditions outlined in the US Open announcement this morning, as of today I do not currently plan to play in NYC,” said Halep, the two-time major champion and former world No. 1, in a statement. “However, as we know, this situation is fluid and the conditions may change and improve before the entry deadline in mid July. I would like to underline that my decision is not set in stone.”

After weeks of uncertainty, the US Open will go ahead on time and at its traditional location – but without spectators – after being given the green light by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo earlier this week. It is hoped that Williams’s decision to play will pave the way for other tennis stars to commit to the showpiece tournament.

“I really cannot wait to return in New York and play the US Open 2020,” Williams said via video link. “I feel like the USTA is going to do a really good job of ensuring everything is amazing and everything is perfect and everyone is safe. It’s going to be exciting. It’s been over six months since a lot of us have played professional tennis.”

The USTA has been so determined to attract Williams that, as new tournament director Stacey Allaster revealed in a virtual press conference: “The surface provided for the 2020 US Open has been shipped to her house. She’s got a new court in her backyard so she has been training.”

Added USTA chief executive Mike Dowse: “It’s clear we’re extremely excited and appreciative she’s [Williams] committed this early to play the tournament. As we all know, she transcends tennis. She’s so much bigger than our sport.”

In an attempt to lure participants, the USTA also announced that players will be allowed up to three guests and up to two rooms at a pair of designated hotels, including TWA Hotel, on the grounds of New York’s JFK International Airport. One room will be paid for by the USTA and one by the player. Players can also rent a house outside of Manhattan if they do not wish the stay in the hotels.

The USTA is also relaxing rules on how many guests that players will be allowed to the National Tennis Center, without specifying any details.

“We are going to have incredible star power. We respect that all athletes are making their own decisions. There are a lot of questions,” Allaster said. “Athletes have been training and now they really are going to be training to return to play and as this whole situation with the virus evolves, here in New York City and around the world, athletes will make that final determination two-to-three weeks before.”

The cash-strapped USTA has been determined to stage the event. The organization recently announced it will eliminate 110 jobs and close its national headquarters in White Plains, New York, as a result of the devastating financial effects of the coronavirus crisis. According to Dowse, the US Open will forfeit roughly 80 per cent of its annual revenue in the absence of any spectators.

In a series of changes, it was revealed that there will be no qualifying rounds, mixed doubles, juniors or wheelchair events during the tournament. Meanwhile, the men’s and women’s doubles will be reduced from 64 teams each to 32.

Electronic line-calling will be used instead of line judges at all courts except at Arthur Ashe Stadium and Louis Armstrong Stadium. There also will be three ball people instead of six on the outside courts. Meanwhile, media members will not be allowed on site except for official broadcast partners.

It was also confirmed that the Cincinnati Masters will be held at National Tennis Center as part of a doubleheader. It will take place from August 21-28, also without spectators.

The French Open has also been pushed back by a week. The main draw of the postponed event at Roland Garros will now be played from September 27 to October 11, with qualifying the week prior.

The revised ATP schedule is set to begin on August 14 with the Citi Open in Washington DC.