The Biggest Problem Of Holding The US Open Behind Closed Doors Could Be The Players - UBITENNIS
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The Biggest Problem Of Holding The US Open Behind Closed Doors Could Be The Players

Many are eager to return to the Tour, but are they willing to play without fans?

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The United States Tennis Association appears determine to stage this year’s US Open despite the threat of COVID-19. One option is slowly emerging as a strong possibility but there is already opposition from some of the sport’s top names.

 

Held at the Billie Jean Tennis Centre in Flushing Meadows, the Grand Slam is located in the epicentre of the outbreak in America. The state of New York has recorded 367,625 cases of the coronavirus with 203,569 of those testing positive living in New York City. As on Monday more than 29,000 people have died from the virus. Nevertheless cases in New York are coming down and their infamous stock exchange is opening back up. Yet, still the prospect of hosting an event with thousands of people attending seems a long way off. 

Given the situation, numerous options are being weighed up regarding the US Open, including the possibility of hosting it in another part of the country. However, one path previously classed as ‘highly unlikely’ by the head of the USTA is slowly gaining momentum. 

A fan-less US Open could be the best possible solution to ensuring the event could be held in New York. Undoubtedly the USTA would still take a big financial hit considering 737,872 fans visited the 2019 event. Although the USTA’s Chief Revenue Officer, Lew Sherr, believes it could still be financially viable. 

“Two months ago, it just didn’t feel like you could stage the celebration or the spectacle that is the U.S. Open in a no-fan scenario and have it be what we think of as the U.S. Open,” Sherr told Sports Business Daily on May 21st.
“As we’ve gone forward, I’ve come around to recognizing what an achievement it would be to play, and how much our fans are missing the game and would be excited to see the competition, and that you need to think about it differently. It’s a different event. It would be broadcast differently, it would be consumed differently, it’s not just playing the U.S. Open as you know it, with empty seats.”

Sherr said he has received key backing from sponsors over the potential plan with many viewing it as a ‘historic event.’ Pointing out that media-right deals will still enable those sponsors to be promoted worldwide. 

However there is one problem that the USTA most probably didn’t want to encounter – a lack of enthusiasm from some of the sports stars. It all started when 2014 champion Marin Cilic told Reuters that such a move could ‘devalue’ this year’s US Open. The Croat is one of two players outside of the Big Four to have won the event within the past decade along with Stan Wawrinka (2016).

“I just feel that it’s going to more or less feel like practice matches,” Cilic argues.
“It’s always going to be … in the years to come, ‘oh, you know that guy won a U.S. Open in 2020 without fans’. I don’t think it’s going to have that weight…
“It wouldn’t be the best scenario.”

Roger Federer admits that he will find it difficult to play without a crowd cheering him on. The Swiss tennis star is usually one of the star attractions at Flushing Meadows and is a five-time champion. Although he hasn’t featured in a final there since 2015. For Federer how would rather wait than take the path of playing behind closed doors. 

“For us, of course, it is possible to play without any fans,” he said. “But on the other hand, I really hope that the circuit can return as it normally is. May we wait for the appropriate time to return to normal mode again. At least a third of the stadium or half full. But for me, completely empty when playing in big tournaments is very difficult.”

It isn’t just the men who have expressed their concerns. Petra Kvitova is another star to voice her opposition. The two-time Wimbledon champion has said she would rather have the event canceled altogether. Like Cilic, the Czech believes playing a major without fans could harm its image. 

“I have my age and of course I would like to play another Grand Slam, but if it’s like this, I’d rather cancel them,” said Kvitova.
“Playing a Grand Slam is the greatest thing there is and playing without fans who are our engine doesn’t look nice to me and the Grand Slam doesn’t deserve it.”

Kvitova is playing in an all-Czech tournament in Prague this week which is being played behind closed doors. 

Despite the trio of objections, not everybody is against the plan. British player Dan Evans believes such an occasion could be ‘iconic’ for the sport. Arguing that it will send out a message that the sport is ready to get going.

“Me, personally, I would love it to go ahead,” Evans told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“I think it would send out a real statement that we can get back going.
“It could be an amazing spectacle that tennis goes ahead with no-one in the stadium, and everybody watching on telly.”

The US Open is set to take place between August 30th – September 13th. The USTA will make a final decision regarding the event next month. 

Grand Slam

Outlook Positive For French Open But Rules Could Change Again, Warns Government

There is growing hope that a significant number of spectators could be allowed to attend but it can’t be guaranteed.

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A recent announcement concerning the number of spectators allowed to attend this year’s French Open should be met with caution, according to a senior government official.

 

Recently the French government outlined their plan for lifting the national lockdown which includes allowing fans back to sporting events. Under their current guidelines, the Grand Slam is set to welcome 1000 spectators per day initially with that number increasing to 5000 in the last five days. The reason for the increase is because the tournament takes place during the same time the country enters ‘phrase three’ of their plans which allows bigger public events providing attendees have been vaccinated or can provide a negative COVID-19 test.

The decision has brought delight to the French Tennis Federation (FFT) who delayed the start of the tournament by a week in hope they would be able to welcome more fans. Furthermore, L’Equipe has reported that up to 12,500 people could be allowed to attend the tournament should it get a ‘test event’ status.

“I am delighted that the discussions with the public authorities, the governing bodies of international tennis, our partners and broadcasters, and the ongoing work with the WTA and ATP, have made it possible for us to postpone the 2021 Roland-Garros tournament by a week. I thank them for this,” Gilles Moretton, president of the FFT said in a statement on the Roland-Garros website.

However, the FFT are not celebrating just yet amid a warning that it is still possible that rules relating to spectators could still change in the coming weeks depending on the COVID-19 pandemic. Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu has told Reuters it is possible that the latest roadmap out of lockdown could be adjusted.

“Something that may be decided today may change a week before the event, or two days before the event, depending on the evolution of the health crisis,she said.
“If we offer this visibility to the participants and organizers today, they know that this visibility can be modified according to the evolution of the transmission of the virus.”
I hope that there are no last-minute changes (in the health situation) and that we can work on these protocols sufficiently in advance to know where we stand,” Maracineanu added.

As for players attending the Grand Slam they have been ‘strongly advised’ not to visit any ‘Bright Red’ countries leading up to the event. In a recent email sent to players from the ATP, anybody arriving from India, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and South Africa will be required to go into a 10-day quarantine.

France’s daily Covid infection fell to an almost two-month low on average on Monday but hospitalizations increased by 132.

The French Open will start on 30 May and run until 13 June.

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Ash Barty Ready To Embrace Wimbledon Bubble But Konta Hopes For Rule Change

The two top 20 players speak out about the rules that will be enforced at the grass-court major this year.

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MUTUA MADRID OPEN DE TENIS 2021 FOTO: A.NEVADO/MMO

Women’s world No.1 Ash Barty says the new restrictions being implemented at this year’s Wimbledon Championships are worth it if she gets to play at the Grand Slam again.

 

The grass-court major is set to take place this year with players facing the strictest rules in the tournament’s history due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All participants will be required to stay within a biosecure bubble at approved hotels. Private housing will not be allowed and even those who may have a house in the city will not be allowed to stay there during their time at Wimbledon. Anybody who breaks the rules faced being disqualified from the event, as well as a fine of up to £14,000.

“It will be strange, without a doubt. But to be a little bit strange, to still be able to play Wimbledon, is certainly my preference,” Barty said following her first round win at the Madrid Open on Wednesday. “It would be a shame to not be able to play that incredible tournament.”

Last year’s Wimbledon Championships got cancelled for the first time in the Open Era due to the pandemic. Unlike the other majors it had the luxury of a pandemic insurance which helped cover the costs. Chairman Ian Hewitt said the total insurance payout amounted to £180 million.

This year there is no pandemic insurance available and officials are planning for a 25% capacity. The tournament is set to start a week after the UK is scheduled to end all of their national restrictions related to the pandemic. Although the timeline could change in the coming weeks depending on case numbers.

“We’re still a couple months away yet. Hopefully in the UK things can settle down, and some sort of normality outside would be brilliant for everyone,” Barty commented.

Konta holding on to hope

MUTUA MADRID OPEN DE TENIS 2021. FOTO: A.MARTINEZ/MMO

Britain’s top player Johanna Konta is less enthusiastic about the prospect of entering another bubble at her home Grand Slam. The world No.18 reached the semi-finals back in 2017 when she became the first British woman to do so since 1978.

“I’m still very hopeful that that might shift and change. As of now I’m just holding onto that hope,” she said about the prospect of having to stay in a hotel instead of her home.

Another blow to the grass season this year is the fact it’s duration has been cut by a week due to the French Open. The French Tennis Federation announced a seven-day delay in a move to maximise their chances of opening their event up to the public. France is currently in a national lockdown.

“I definitely don’t think it’s ideal for the build-up. Wimbledon has obviously lost that week, hopefully just for this year,” Konta admits. “However, I think everyone is just trying to do what’s best for themselves but overall best for the events being put on.”

Earlier this week Wimbledon conducted their annual spring press conference where they revealed plans to introduce play on the middle Sunday. AELTC chief executive Sally Bolton also played down the chances of their bubble plans being changed.

The minimised risk environment we created for the players is a requirement from the government to bring athletes without them going into quarantine upon entry into the UK,” Bolton told reporters.

The Wimbledon Championships will start on June 28th.

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Wimbledon Abolishes Middle Sunday From 2022, Update On 2021 Championships

Wimbledon will become a 14 day tournament from 2022 as a minimum 25% capacity is expected at the Championships this year.

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Wimbledon has announced that there will be no more Middle Sunday from 2022 as they look to have spectators for 2021 Championships.

 

One of Wimbledon’s main traditions will be gone from 2022 onwards as Middle Sunday will be eliminated therefore expanding the tournament to 14 days.

Middle Sunday has been a tradition which has allowed a day’s rest for competitors allowing the grass courts some time to recover for the second week.

However in 2022 there will be play on Middle Sunday as Chairman Ian Hewitt hinted that new technology was the reason for this, “Thanks to improved grass court technology and maintenance over the past five years or so and other measures, we are comfortable that we are able to look after the courts, most particularly Centre Court, without a full day of rest,” Hewitt said.

“This provides us with the opportunity, at an important time, to enhance the accessibility, reach and fanbase of Wimbledon, and tennis, both in the UK and globally. It will also ensure greater resilience and fairness of the tournament programme for our competitors, and enable us to create a different kind of atmosphere on the Middle Sunday, with a strong focus on the local community in particular.”

Moving onto this year’s tournament there is speculation about what capacity will be present in 2021, with all of the UK’s lockdown restrictions being eased a week before the Championships begin.

Chief Executive Sally Bolton has hinted at a 25% capacity to begin with but there is hope that could be increased if Britain’s roadmap out of lockdown is executed successfully, “We very much hope 25% is a minimum position from which we can build – it is our absolute desire to enable as many people as possible to safely attend The Championships this year,” Bolton said.

“At the heart of our thinking is the intention to create the mix of spectators for which Wimbledon is known, while also working hard to protect the financial performance of The Championships, including the surplus that we deliver for the benefit of British tennis.”

Other announcements in the press conference included that Wimbledon had received 180 million pounds due to pandemic insurance, ticket prices will stay at the 2020 level, prize money will be announced in June nearer to the Championships and that each player can only bring a maximum of three members of their entourage.

Despite some restrictions still being in place excitement is building ahead of Wimbledon’s return to the tour, “I would like to say how excited we are that Wimbledon will be back this summer, with the best tennis players in the world competing on our grass courts, in front of our passionate spectators,” Hewitt added.

“While it will, necessarily, be different from Wimbledon as we know it, we are full of enthusiasm and totally committed to our return following last year’s cancellation.”

Wimbledon will take place from the 28th of June until the 11th of July with the defending champions being Novak Djokovic and Simona Halep.

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