Serena set for US Open as officials vow safety, star power

Friday, June 19th, 2020 00:00 |
Serena Williams.

New York, Thursday

Serena Williams committed to play at this year’s US Open on Wednesday as US Tennis Association officials vowed they can safely stage the first Grand Slam since the coronavirus pandemic shutdown.

With top men’s stars questioning the wisdom of the staging the event, the USTA said the tournament will be held August 31 to September 13 without spectators at New York’s National Tennis Center, which in April became a temporary hospital facility to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

“I really can’t wait to return to the US Open 2020,” Serena Williams said in a video message. “I think the USTA is going to do a really good job of ensuring everyone is going to be safe.

“This is crazy. I’m excited.”

The Flushing Meadows fortnight will be the first Grand Slam event staged since the deadly virus outbreak shut down global sport. Wimbledon was cancelled and the French Open was postponed until September.

The site will also host the ATP/WTA Western and Southern Open, typically staged in Cincinnati, the week before the US Open with a similar safety “bubble” that includes testing for players and their entourage.

The USTA expects an 80% drop in net operating income as a result of having no spectators for the US Open but will provide $60 million in prize money for the two events in New York combined plus another $3.3 million each to the ATP and WTA.

“We have the resources we can do this for a one-off year,” USTA chief executive officer Mike Dowse said.

Novak Djokovic has been among several top players critical of the idea of staging the US Open as scheduled given the severe US impact of COVID-19, although cases in the New York area have been declining for several weeks.

“It’s the right decision for tennis,” Dowse said. “Our fans told us unequivocally they’re excited to see the best players in the world.”

Williams will be chasing her 24th Grand Slam singles title to match Margaret Court’s all-time record.

“I’m confident a lot of athletes want to return to play,” said US Open tournament director Stacey Allaster. “It’s going to be great, exciting tennis for our fans around the world.”

Players will be tested for COVID-19 when they arrive at the tournament hotel, which opens August 15, and at least once a week thereafter, with those electing to stay at private homes being tested more often as they enter the Open grounds, which are available August 16.

“We’re confident we can pull this off,” said Dr. Brian Hainline, USTA Medical Advisory Group chairman.    -AFP

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