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

Players Face Sanctions If They Make Pro-Putin Statements At French Open, Warns Mauresmo

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The tournament director of the French Open admits there is ‘no fair decision’ regarding the participation of Russian and Belarusian players in the Grand Slam.

 

Amelie Mauresmo, who is a former WTA No.1 player herself, confirmed that players from those countries will be allowed to play during an interview with French radio. Although they will only be allowed to play under a neutral status in line with the rules which have been adopted by other governing bodies of the sport. The action has been taken in response to Russia’s military assault on the Ukraine which began on February 24th. Belarus is suspected of supporting Russia in the conflict which has already killed thousands of people.

The stance of officials in Paris is a stark contrast to that of Wimbledon who has controversially implemented a ban on those players, as well as the LTA. Making it the first time The All England Club has excluded players due to their nationality since the World War Two Era when German and Japanese players weren’t allowed to participate. The ATP Tour is reportedly considering removing the allocation of points to the event in response to the ban.

Speaking about the issue, Mauresmo confirmed that action could be taken against any player who decides to make pro-Putin statements during the tournament. Although she didn’t elaborate on what penalties could be used if such a situation occurs.

“We have thought a lot, and I have the impression that there is no fair decision, one way or the other,” said Mauresmo. “We are in line with what European sports ministers have decided, we do not welcome teams but individual athletes. Obviously if an athlete speaks in the press for example and supports Vladimir Putin, sanctions will be taken. “

Providing an update on the upcoming tournament, Mauresmo says she is confident that this year’s tournament will have an almost full attendance. Confirming that “tickets are sold at more than 90-95%” of its capacity in what she hails as a ‘real success’ for the tournament. Last year’s edition took place with a restricted capacity due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year’s French Open will begin on May 22nd. Novak Djokovic and Barbora Krejcikova are the defending champions.

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French Open Prize Money Pool Up By Nearly 7% From 2019 But Singles Champions Will Win Less

More then 40 million euros will be up for grabs during this year’s tournament.

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The prize money pool for this year’s French Open will be increased by around 6.8% compared to 2019 which was the last time the event was held before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

 

A total of 43.6 million euros (about $46 million) will be distributed by the French Tennis Federation (FFT) throughout the tournament with the most noticeable increase concerning first round matches. Those participating in the first round will receive 62,000 euros which is a 35% increase compared to 2019 and a 3% increase on what was offered last year. 

Another substantial rise concerns the qualifying tournaments with the money pot being 66% higher than 2019 and 30% more than 2021. The amounts on offer in the three-round qualifying tournament are €14,000,  €20,000 and  €31,000.

“The increase in prize money for the first round of the singles main draws and the qualifying competitions is designed to help the players who have suffered the most as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic,” the FFT outlined in a statement.

This year’s singles champions will each take home €2.2M which is just slightly down on the tally of €2.3M that was offered back in 2019. On the other hand it is an increase of €700,000 compared to last year when the tournament was operating under various restrictions due to the pandemic. 

This year’s French Open main draw will get underway on May 22nd. Novak Djokovic and Barbora Krejčíková are the defending champions. 

2022 French Open Prize money breakdown

ROUNDPRIZE MONEY (€)
Champion2.2M
Runner-up1.1M
Semi-finals600,000
Quarter-finals380,000
Round 4220,000
Round 3125,800
Round 286,000
Round 162,000
Qualifying – R331,000
Qualifying – R220,000
Qualifying – R114,000

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Grand Slam

Decision By Wimbledon And LTA To Ban Players Over Ukraine War Backed By Nordic Federations

Britain’s controversial move has split opinion in the sport but a group of four countries have endorsed the ban due to ‘the hostility of the Russian and Belarusian states.’

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Aerial view across the grounds as spectators watch the big screen on the outside of No.1 Court in the sunshine at The Championships 2021. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Day 7 Monday 05/07/2021. Credit: AELTC/Joe Toth

After recent days of criticism towards British officials over their decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from tournaments this year, the first tennis federations have publicly expressed their support.

 

During their spring press conference on Wednesday, Wimbledon chiefs said they have ‘no viable option’ but to issue the ban in order to prevent the possibility of “being used to benefit the propaganda machine of the Russian regime”. Russia launched a military attack on Ukraine on February 24th and it is highly suspected that Belarus is supporting them. According to the UN at least 2,729 civilians have been killed and another 3111 injured but the figures are feared to be higher.

The move has split opinion in the sport with both the ATP and WTA both criticizing the decision. Earlier this year the sport’s seven governing bodies issued a statement saying that players from the two countries will still be allowed to participate in tournaments but only as neutral players. Steve Simon, who is the head of the WTA, has hinted that there will be a ‘strong reaction’ from his organization. It is understood that both the ATP and WTA will meet in the coming days during the Madrid Open. In the most extreme scenario, they could decide to revoke their licenses to LTA events or remove their ability to award ranking points.

“We recognize that whatever decision we took, we’ll be setting a precedent,” said Wimbledon CEO Sally Bolton. “We made our judgment in the context of the scale of the response to an international war, the consequences of which reach far wider than the sport of tennis. We appreciate that this is an immensely difficult decision on which people have different views, which we respect and we understand, and we are deeply regretful of the impact that this will have on every single player who is affected.”

Ian Hewitt, who is chairman of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, says the ban was influenced by guidance given by the British government on the matter.

“We believe we have made the most responsible decision possible in the circumstances and that, within the framework of the government’s position, there is no viable alternative to the decision we have taken in this truly exceptional and tragic situation.” He said.

It remains to be seen if other countries will take similar actions in the future. It is understood that the Italian government is currently considering whether to allow Russian and Belarusian players to participate at the upcoming Internazionali BNL d’Italia. A Masters 1000 event for the men and WTA 1000 for the women.

Meanwhile, the tennis federations of four nordic countries have issued a joint-statement in support of the ban by Wimbledon and the LTA. Officials from Sweden, Iceland, Finland and Norway have backed the move. The only country from the region not to co-sign is Denmark but it is unclear as to why.

We, the undersigned federations, support the position the LTA and AELTC have taken regarding Russian and Belarusian players competing in events in Great Britain. In these exceptional times, tennis must do all it can to stand with the people of Ukraine against the hostility of the Russian and Belarusian states.” The statement reads.

Besides the statement issued from the four countries, no other tennis federations are yet to formally comment on the matter. Furthermore, there has been no statement issued by the International Tennis Federation.

The ban applies to all ATP and WTA events set to take place in Britain this year, as well as Wimbledon.

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