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US Open in fresh danger amid players’ concerns

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The US Open appears at risk of not taking place due to concerns from leading tennis players about the health and safety concerns of traveling internationally to New York this summer in the wake of the global Covid-19 pandemic.

The United States Tennis Association is continuing its attempts to stage the grand slam tournament on its scheduled dates in the calendar at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, Queens, albeit without spectators.

However, video-conference talks this week between the various stakeholders in the sport have reportedly revealed serious divisions between players and organizers.

The cash-strapped USTA is determined to stage the event. Earlier this week, the organization 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.

However, many leading players – including Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Nick Kyrgios, and Simona Halep – have expressed serious reservations about the health and safety protocols the USTA is looking to impose in order to stage the event and are reluctant to commit to taking part.

The protocols include enforcing players to stay in a quarantined hotel outside of Manhattan, imposing a limit of one support team member per player, eliminating singles qualifying, and reducing the doubles draws from 64 teams to 24.

The highly-influential Djokovic has described the measures as “extreme.”

It is an extremely delicate situation for Stacey Allaster, the former chair and chief executive of the Women’s Tennis Association, who was this week appointed as the first female tournament director of the US Open.

“I definitely have strong concerns about going there with those conditions,” Halep told the New York Times. “Not only because we’re in the middle of a global pandemic but also because of the risk of travel, potential quarantine and then the changes around the tournament.

“We are used to things operating very differently and it would not be an easy transition at all, particularly on our bodies. I know that financially the tournament and sponsors would like it to run and also that many players are out of jobs right now, but I think it’s a very personal decision we have to make. It’s important to understand that everyone has individual needs and circumstances and we should do what’s best for our personal health and also think long term about our career,” Halep said.

There are tentative plans for the Cincinnati Masters to be held at the National Tennis Center as part of a doubleheader with the US Open. The high-profile tournament, which is also known as the Western & Southern Open, is currently scheduled for August 17 to 23 in Mason, Ohio. The main draw of the US Open, meanwhile, is slated for August 31-September 13.

This doubleheader in New York would lead to a shortened US Open, impacting the qualifying and doubles events, which has caused concern among fringe players.

In turn, another option being considered by the USTA is to cancel the warm-up Western & Southern Open and play a full US Open, including full qualifying rounds and a full 64-team doubles draw.

“We have a third scenario, and that is we pack it up and just cancel for 2020, which we really don’t want to do,” USTA president Patrick Galbraith said on the video-conference call.

The USTA has already rejected holding the tournament outside of New York, following initial thoughts of staging the event at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Florida, and the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Palm Springs, California.

A decision needs to be made by next week, reportedly on June 15. But it appears that if the US Open does proceed, it will not be with a full-strength field which would inevitably devalue the tournament. Earlier this week Roger Federer said he will skip the 2020 season due to injury.

Galbraith added: “We have less than a week to go, so we need to finally finalize what we will do.”