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.
Roland Garros Day 2 Preview: Five Must-See Matches
Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal will chase history starting today in Paris.
For Serena, this is her 10th attempt at securing what has become an elusive 24th Major title. For Nadal, it’s his second bid to tie Roger Federer for most men’s Major singles titles. Also on Monday, the sport’s newest Major champion, Dominic Thiem, plays his first match since achieving that feat. In a tough opening round draw, he faces another US Open champion, Marin Cilic. They are joined today by fellow Slam champs Angelique Kerber, Garbine Muguruza, Petra Kvitova, and Svetlana Kuznetsova. Monday will be a busy day around the grounds of Roland Garros.
Dominic Thiem (3) vs. Marin Cilic
Just like yesterday, the men’s lineup is headlined by a meeting between two Major winners: the 2014 and 2020 US Open champions. In this unusual 2020, Thiem is back on court for another Major just 15 days after his US Open triumph. But Thiem should be fresh, coming off a rarity in his career: taking two weeks off. And this is Dominic’s best Slam: he’s reached the semifinals or better the last four years, and was the runner-up to Nadal the last two years. By contrast, this has been the worst Major for Cilic, though he has reached the quarterfinals twice since 2017. But it’s been a rough two seasons for Marin, who has not advanced beyond the fourth round of a Slam since 2018. Over the last two years, Cilic is just 7-5 on this surface. And he’s 0-3 lifetime against Thiem, which includes a four-set loss just a few weeks ago at the US Open. There’s no evidence to support a different outcome today.
Svetlana Kuznetsova (28) vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
This should be quite the battle between two Russian veterans. Kuznetsova was the champion here in 2009, though she hasn’t gone beyond the fourth round since 2014. Pavlyuchenkova has reached six Major quarterfinals in her career, including here in 2011, though she’s never advanced farther. Anastasia has actually been the better player in recent years. She reached two finals last fall, and the quarters of the Australian Open in January. Kuznetsova is just 1-7 at Majors in the last three years, yet she’s shown glimpses of her best tennis outside the Slams. She was the finalist in Cincinnati a year ago, and reached the semifinals of Doha earlier this year. Kuznetsova leads their head-to-head 6-3, which includes their only meeting on clay, four years ago in Paris. The clay certainly favors the former champion, who is the favorite in what could be a grueling encounter between two great fighters.
Gael Monfils (8) vs. Alexander Bublik
Well this is guaranteed to be entertaining. Both these unorthodox players prioritize having fun on court, sometimes at the expense of logic. Expect to see underhand serves, tweeners, and plenty of wry smiles. Monfils has reached the quarters or better here four times, though not since 2014. And while he won back-to-back hard court titles in February, the Frenchman is 0-2 on clay this month. 23-year-old Bublik is only 4-8 in his career at the Majors, but did reach the quarters of Hamburg last week as a lucky loser. And he owns victories this year over top 20 players Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime. However, Monfils has not lost in the first round of his home Slam since his debut 15 years ago. I don’t see that changing today, as there’s nothing Bublik does significantly better than Monfils. Their first career meeting should further reveal that.
Marketa Vondrousova (15) vs. Iga Swiatek
21-year-old Vondrousova was a surprise finalist here last June. She stormed through six rounds without dropping a set, taking out four seeded players along the way. Marketa would only play three more matches in 2019, as wrist surgery interrupted her upward trajectory. She started this season just 3-7, but regained some form two weeks ago in Rome, where she walloped Elina Svitolina 6-3, 6-0 on her way to the semifinals. Her opponent today is another of the WTA’s most promising stars: a 19-year-old from Poland who has already reached the round of 16 at two Majors. That includes last year at this event. Like Vondrousova, Swiatek had surgery following last year’s US Open, due to a foot injury. But Iga did not lose any momentum, advancing to the fourth round of the Australian Open in her first tournament back. This will be the first of what will hopefully be many matches between two engaging players with plenty of variety in their games. Vondrousova will surely feel pressure to back up her result here from a year ago, though that may be a bit alleviated with the knowledge she will not immediately lose her ranking points due to the current rankings freeze. But Swiatek is a tough first round draw, and it would not be surprising for the teenager to defeat the 2019 runner-up.
Madison Keys (12) vs. Shuai Zhang
The last time these two played, Keys left the court in tears. After winning the first set in the fourth round of the 2016 Australian Open, a left leg injury hampered the American, who toughed out the match but lost in three. This marked the first Major quarterfinal for Zhang, who had never won a match at a Slam prior to the event. Shuai was ranked outside the top 100 at the time, and had recently considered retirement due to her struggles on tour. Zhang would go on to reach another Major quarterfinal last year Wimbledon, though she’s only 4-8 lifetime at Roland Garros. But Keys has become one of the WTA’s more consistent performers at Grand Slam events. She hasn’t lost an opening round match since 2014, and has advanced to the quarters or better the last two years in Paris. Zhang owns a 3-2 record against Keys at all levels, though Madison claimed their only clay court meeting seven years ago in Rome. Madison retired from the US Open a few weeks ago with a neck issue, and hasn’t played since. Zhang meanwhile earned three clay court wins last week in Strasbourg. But if Keys is healthy, she has the tools to dictate the outcome, and overcome the painful memories of their last encounter.
Other Notable Matches on Day 2:
Three-time champion Serena Williams (6) vs. Kristie Ahn. These Americans played just a few weeks ago in this same round of the US Open, with Serena prevailing in straight sets.
12-time champion Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Egor Gerasimov, a 27-year-old from Belarus. While Gerasimov is 3-0 in the first round of his last three Majors, Nadal’s Roland Garros record of 93-2 is the real story.
2016 champion Garbine Muguruza (11) vs. Tamara Zidansek, a 22-year-old Slovenian who reached the final of a clay court event last year in Nuremberg.
A champion in Strasbourg just two days ago, Eliva Svitolina (3) vs. Varvara Grecheva, a 20-year-old Russian who came back from 6-1, 5-1 down to upset Kiki Mladenovic at the US Open.
Daniil Medvedev (4) vs. Marton Fucsovics. Medvedev leads their head-to-head 3-0, though Daniil is 0-3 in his career at the French Open.
Monday’s full schedule is here.
Roland Garros Day 1 Preview: Five Must-See Matches
In this unique year, the French Open will begin on the 27th of September, four months later its usual start date.
This is the only Major which begins on a Sunday, with first round singles matches spread across the first three days of the tournament. And extra time may be required to complete matches, with rain in the forecast throughout the next 10 days. Fortunately for players scheduled on Court Philippe-Chatrier, the French Open finally has a retractable roof over its main stadium. And the addition of lights on the other courts will allow matches to extend later into the evening. This will truly be a one-of-a-kind autumn fortnight, with 1,000 fans allowed on Court Philippe-Chatrier only, and the conditions wetter and colder than late-spring in Paris.
Each day for the next 15 days, we’ll go in-depth on the most prominent matches of the day.
Stan Wawrinka (16) vs. Andy Murray (WC)
This is a blockbuster first round matchup between a pair of three-time Major champions. They played an epic, over four-and-a-half-hour semifinal here in 2017, which Wawrinka won in five sets. And neither player has been the same since, as both suffered injuries which they link back to that encounter. Wawrinka had knee surgery two months later, derailing his career for the better part of two years. Murray endured multiple hip surgeries and nearly retired from the sport. This is only Andy’s sixth singles match at a Major in the last three years. In Murray’s second match back in 2018, he upset Wawrinka as a wild card at Eastbourne. They also played an excellent championship match last fall in Antwerp, where Andy won his first tour title since March of 2017. Overall Murray leads their head-to-head 12-8, but Stan has the edge 4-1 on clay. They’ve split six previous meetings at Slams. After playing five matches in the New York bubble, Murray did not partake in a clay court lead-in event. Wawrinka skipped New York and chose instead to play Challenger events on clay, winning a title in Prague. But Stan lost in the opening round of Rome to breakout Italian star Lorenzo Musetti. With little match play in the last few weeks, both veterans should be fully fresh for this battle. On a clay court, the odds are in Wawrinka’s favor. And the slower conditions shouldn’t bother the 2015 champion, who prefers having more time to set up his thumping strikes.
Johanna Konta (9) vs. Coco Gauff
The British No.1 was a semifinalist here a year ago, while the 16-year-old American is making her French Open main draw debut. Gauff secured her first WTA-level clay court win just last week in Rome. That’s actually Coco’s only victory in her last five matches, as her second serve and unforced error woes have subdued her game. In her first round loss to Anastasija Sevastova at the US Open, she hit 13 double faults and 41 unforced errors. By contrast, Konta is one of the WTA’ best servers. At last month’s Western & Southern Open, Jo didn’t drop her serve through her first three matches, until facing eventual champion (and excellent returner) Victoria Azarenka. While the heavier balls in Paris will make Konta’s serve a bit less effective, her vast clay court experience compared to that of Gauff’s makes Jo a strong favorite in their first career meeting.
David Goffin (11) vs. Jannik Sinner
Their first and only clash occurred earlier this year on an indoor hard court in Rotterdam, where the 19-year-old Italian prevailed after two tight sets. Sinner is one of the ATP’s most promising young prospects, and was the champion of last year’s Next Gen Finals. He possesses offensive weaponry that may take him to the top of the game in years to come. However, Jannik is still an unproven commodity in best-of-five at the Majors. He’s only earned one match win at a Slam. And we saw his body fail him after going up two sets against Karen Khachanov earlier this month at the US Open. Sinner won just two total games in third and fourth sets, as he struggled to move about the court. Goffin is the fitter and more experienced player, who has reached the third round in Paris the last five years. The juxtaposition between Sinner’s firepower and Goffin’s speed should make for an entertaining contest, but I like David’s chances to advance.
Anett Kontaveit (17) vs. Caroline Garcia
This is a rematch from just last week in Rome, where Kontaveit prevailed in 6-3, 7-6(1). Overall she is 2-1 against Garcia, with Anett also claiming their other recent clay court meeting. Kontaveit is one of the WTA’s winningest players in this truncated season, with 23 match wins. The 24-year-old Estonian reached a clay final just last month in Palermo. Garcia actually has a losing record on the year, though she played some of her best tennis in a long time in upsetting top-seeded Karolina Pliskova at the US Open. Caroline’s best performance at a Major came here three years ago, when she was a quarterfinalist at her home Slam. But in her last eight Major appearances, Garcia is a disappointing 8-8. Despite showing some signs of regaining her top level, Caroline is the underdog against the in-form and more consistent Kontaveit.
Dan Evans (32) vs. Kei Nishikori
Nishikori is a three-time quarterfinalist in Paris, but this is only Kei’s fifth match since last August, when elbow surgery ended his 2019 early. Nishikori is a meager 1-3 since returning. His opponent today has never won a match at Roland Garros. Evans actually hasn’t earned a main draw win on clay since April of 2017. That includes two losses over the last two weeks, to Hubert Hurkacz and Stefanos Tsitsipas. Despite his dreadful record on this surface, the British No.1 reached a career-high ranking earlier this year, coming off a stellar 2019 where he accumulated 55 match wins at all levels. Nishikori is 2-1 against Evans, though they haven’t played in three years, and never on clay. Most notably, Evans upset Nishikori as a qualifier in the opening round of the 2013 US Open. Dan is certainly the more match-tough player, so an extended affair will favor the Brit. But Evans’ lack of confidence on the clay makes it difficult to favor him over a player of Kei’s caliber.
Other Notable Matches on Day 1:
2018 champion Simona Halep (1) vs. Sara Sorribes Tormo, a 23-year-old Spaniard who defeated Naomi Osaka on clay earlier this year.
US Open women’s runner-up Victoria Azarenka (10) vs. Danka Kovinic, a 25-year-old from Montenegro who upset Belinda Bencic two weeks ago in Rome.
US Open men’s runner-up Sascha Zverev (6) vs. Dennis Novak, a 27-year-old Austrian. How will Zverev perform just 14 days after the heartbreaking loss of his first Major final to another Austrian in a fifth-set tiebreak?
Rome finalist Diego Schwartzman (12) vs. Miomir Kecmanovic, who won his first ATP title a week ago on the clay of Kitzbuhel.
In her 23rd French Open appearance, 2002 finalist Venus Williams vs. Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, who defeated Venus at this event six years ago.
Sunday’s full schedule is here.
Simona Halep Could Face 2019 Nemesis As She Hunts Second French Open Title
The form of Simona Halep and other top players makes the 2020 French Open seemingly easier to predict than the US Open.
While the recent US Open Women’s Singles was difficult to predict, the form of Simona Halep and other top players makes the 2020 French Open seem like much more of a closed shop.
As with the draw at Flushing Meadows, there are some notable absentees. World No.1 Ashleigh Barty has elected to stay in Australian due to coronavirus concerns. While 2020 US Open champion Naomi Osaka and 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu are both missing due to injury.
However, these are the only three players in the world’s top 30 who have not made the trip to Paris, so there is a very strong field for the 5,000 lucky spectators in the stadium and the millions watching at home to enjoy.
Halep Is The Clear Favourite
The 2020 French Open title is Simona Halep’s to lose. Since the restart, she has played ten matches on clay and won them all. These wins secured the titles in Prague and Rome.
Just as importantly, the Romanian is arguably the best female clay court player in the world. She is one-time winner and a three-time finalist at Roland Garros, and it would be very surprising if she did not get close to the title again this year.
However, there is one significant demon for Halep to vanquish. She was beaten by Amanda Anisimova in the quarter-final last year. And she is seeded to face the talented American teenager in the third round this time.
If the Romanian gets past Anisimova, she will probably face either Dayana Yastremska or Marketa Vondrousova in the last 16. Halep beat the Ukrainian in their first meeting in Rome last week. But she might be worried if she faces the Czech, who beat her twice in 2019.
The other seeded players in the Romanian’s quarter are also dangerous. Johanna Konta is set to meet Maria Sakkari in the third round if she survives an opening round encounter with Cori Gauff. And fifth seed Kiki Bertens, who suffered an injury scare in Strasbourg, is due to face 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova at the same stage.
Serena Lands Devilish Draw
Serena Williams has reached five Grand Slam finals in the last four years. But none of them have been at Roland Garros. And unfortunately for fans of the American, there is no reason to expect that to change this year.
In an extraordinary quirk of fate, Williams will face the same first-round opponent she took on at the US Open: Kristie Ahn. She could then meet two more Flushing Meadows foes. She may face Tsvetana Pironkova in the second round and the woman who beat her, Victoria Azarenka, in the fourth round.
Elina Svitolina will be confident about her chances of making it through the other half of the quarter. She should breeze through the opening three rounds. Then she will have to play well to beat either Elise Mertens or Anett Kontaveit in the last 16. The Ukrainian will then have to perform even better to overcome either Williams or Azarenka in the last eight.
Muguruza Can Seize Chance To Shine
Garbine Muguruza is the outstanding player in the third quarter of the draw. She is one of only five former champions taking part in the French Open this year.
The Spaniard is also in form. She beat four excellent players – Sloane Stephens, Gauff, Konta and Azarenka – en route to the semi-final in Rome last week. And she might have gone on to claim the title if she had not run into Halep.
After these performances, confidence will be high for Muguruza. However, she could have a tricky third-round encounter to negotiate if Jennifer Brady maintains the momentum she established by reaching the US Open semi-final.
If the Spaniard beats the American, she may face eighth seed Aryna Sabalenka in the last 16 and then Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin in the quarter-final. While both are high-class players, Muguruza should be considered the favourite in both potential clashes.
There are several players in this quarter that could spring a surprise and reach the last eight. One is Ons Jabeur, who is due to face Sabalenka in round three. Another is Donna Vekic, who could take on Kenin at the same stage. Finally, there is an intriguing last-32 encounter on the cards between 14th seed Elena Rybakina and 22nd seed Karolina Muchova. Either of these two young talents could cause problems for the top players.
Will Pliskova Be Fit Enough To Challenge?
In the Rome final, Karolina Pliskova retired for the first time in her professional career due to a left thigh injury. Despite this, the Czech is in the draw for the French Open and she is determined to compete.
If the World No.2 is able to play, she should easily overcome whichever qualifier she takes on in the first round. After that, it will probably become much tougher for her. She could face the always-dangerous 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko in round two, Stephens in round three, clay-court specialist Petra Martic in round four and Petra Kvitova in the quarter-final. All of those matches are potential banana skins for Pliskova.
Madison Keys and Angelique Kerber provide the main obstacles for 7th seed Kvitova. The Czech is seeded to meet either the American or the German in the last 16. Whoever emerges victorious from that clash will fancy their chances of reaching the semi-finals.
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