The French Open has unveiled plans to allow fans to attend their event this year with strict safety measures in place amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a press conference on Thursday the French Tennis Federation (FFT) confirmed that this year’s tournament will go ahead with a maximum of 60% of its full capacity. A stark contrast to the US Open, which is taking place behind closed doors for the first time in history. On the main courts at Roland Garros a maximum of four people will be allowed to sit together with an empty seat separating them from others. Meanwhile, on the other courts every other seat will be out of use.
“We went for the responsible option,” FTT president Bernard Giudicelli told reporters.
“Should the situation evolve in the right direction, new tickets would be available in September,” he added.
The FFT has said their 60% benchmark is based on ‘health-related information and the projected guidelines’ alongside discussions with the national government. They said their approach is a principle that is also being taken by cinemas and theatres in the country. However, it is possible that these rules could be tightened if there would be another outbreak of the Virus in the country.
“If the situation requires more stringent hygiene standards that force us to reduce the number of spectators on site, the tournament organisers will refund any supplementary tickets sold,” the FFT explained.
Organizers estimate that over the two weeks 20,000 people are expected to attend the event daily and 10,000 on the final day. Those attending will be required to wear a face mask whilst walking around the grounds, however, it will only be optional whilst they are sitting courtside.
It has also been confirmed that all the usual events will go ahead as planned, including junior, qualifying and wheelchair competitions. All three of those events were removed from the US Open, but the wheelchair event has since been reinstated following a backlash from players.
A specific hygiene protocol for the players and their entourage will also be in place for the event. Although officials are still in the process of finalising the plans and will be publishing them at a later date.
This year’s French Open will start on September 27th and end on October 11th. Rafael Nadal and Ash Barty are the reigning champions.
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This year’s US Open will see their prize money pool slashed by $3.6 million compared to 2019 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The United States Tennis Association (USTA) has published a breakdown of the earnings players will be receiving at the Grand Slam which will start at the end of this month. Similar to other tour events such as the Western and Southern Open, earnings for early tournament losers will be increased compared to 12 months ago and those going further on in the tournament will see theirs going in the opposite direction.
Singles champions in both the men’s and women’s draws will take home $3 million, which is a $850,000 drop compared to what the winners took home in 2019. Last year the US Open had the highest prize money pool in Grand Slam history at $57 million. As for the runner-up their reward will be $1.5M, which is a fall of $400,000.
“We’re proud to be able to offer a player compensation package that maintains nearly 95 percent of the prize pool from 2019,” USTA CEO Mike Dowse said in a statement. “The prize money distribution for the 2020 US Open is the result of close collaboration between the USTA, WTA and ATP, and represents a commitment to supporting players and their financial well-being during an unprecedented time.”
The only increase when it comes to the singles tournament is related to the first round where the losers will take home 5% more ($61,000) than what they would have won at the same stage last year. The second and third round prize money remains unchanged.
On Tuesday the US Open suffered a blow when reigning champion Rafael Nadal confirmed that he wouldn’t be playing this year due to ongoing concerns about the virus. Joining the likes of Ash Barty, Nick Kyrgios and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova who have also confirmed they will not be playing in Flushing Meadows.
“The situation is very complicated worldwide, the COVID-19 cases are increasing, it looks like we still don’t have control of it,” Nadal wrote on Instagram.
“This is a decision I never wanted to take but I have decided to follow my heart this time and for the time being I rather not travel.”
Due to the pandemic this year’s competition is taking place behind closed doors in what is a heavy financial blow for the USTA, who relies deeply on the revenues generated in New York. Which attracted more than 700,000 fans in 2019. The event usually brings in $400M in revenue annually, which makes up roughly 80% of the USTA’s tally.
Prize money breakdown
More Top Names Expected To Withdraw From US Open, Warns Andy Murray
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Former world No.1 Andy Murray believes some male players will follow Ash Barty in withdrawing from next month’s US Open over travelling and COVID-19 concerns.
The British tennis star told reporters on Thursday he had heard that some ‘top players’ will not be playing in the Grand Slam without elaborating further. This year’s US Open will take place without fans for the first time in history due to the pandemic. Players will be restricted as to where they can stay or visit whilst based inside what is being described as a ‘protective bubble.’ Murray has already committed to playing at the event but he is less certain about some of his rivals.
“I have heard some of the top male players aren’t going to play. I would expect that would be the case,” he said.
“It’s everyone’s personal decision. If they don’t feel safe, and don’t feel comfortable, travelling and going there and putting themselves and their team at an increased risk, then it’s completely understandable.”
In recent months both Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have cast doubts about travelling to America and hinted that they may instead focus their intention on the European clay swing. Although no official decision has been disclosed to the public. Both of them are currently on the entry list for the Western and Southern Open, which takes place at the same venue as the US Open the week before. Roger Federer and Gael Monfils are the only two top 10 players not entered into the event.
Despite New York seeing a much more steady rate of COVID-19 infections compared to other parts of America, many players have voiced concerns over travelling there during the pandemic. The US government has already said that athletes are excluded from quarantine rules and the same is likely to be applied to events in Europe too.
“All of the players will have some reservations and it’s whether or not you feel comfortable taking that risk,” said Murray.
“Like I said the other day, my feeling is once we are inside that bubble they created, we will be okay. It’s more the international travel, and getting there which I will be a bit concerned about it.”
Amid the uncertainty surrounding who will play at the US Open, Murray believes when the Tour resumes there will be a series of upsets. Paving way for what he describes as ‘interesting results’ at the major event.
“You just can’t replicate matches in practice, it just isn’t the same,” the three-time Grand Slam champion commented. “It is different on the body, on the mind. The pressure is just different and no matter how hard you try to make your practices as challenging and difficult as matches, they just aren’t.
“Some players who have had injury lay-offs will probably be a little bit more experienced in terms of coming back after a long period, but it’s an opportunity for players. There will be upsets for sure. Going into the US Open with potentially only one or two matches in the Cincinnati event in New York, it will make for some interesting results.”
The US Open will start on August 31st. In the men’s draw world No.2 Nadal is the reigning champion.
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This year’s US Open will take place without the presence of the women’s world No.1 due to ongoing concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ash Barty has become the first top 10 player to officially confirm that they will not be playing at the New York major next month. The Australian released a statement on Thursday saying she felt uncomfortable travelling to the region because of the ‘significant risk’ posed by the virus. In recent weeks there has been speculation that Barty may withdraw from the event.
“My team and I have decided that we won’t be travelling to the US for the Western and Southern Open and the US Open this year,” Barty said.
“I love both events so it was a difficult decision but there are still significant risks involved due to COVID-19 and I don’t feel comfortable putting my team and I in that position.
“I wish the USTA all the best for the tournaments and look forward to being back in the US next year.”
America has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases nationally with new daily cases regularly exceeding the 50,000 mark. Although the situation in New York, where the US Open is held, is better than many other states. Earlier this week America exceeded 150,000 deaths related to COVID-19 in what is the highest figure in the world.
It is unclear when the 24-year-old will return to competitive tennis, but she is expected to play at the French Open where she will be deafening her title. Barty hasn’t played a match on the WTA Tour since her semi-final loss to Petra Kvitova at the Doha Open in February.
“I will make my decision on the French Open and the surrounding WTA European tournaments in the coming weeks,” she said.
Barty leads the WTA rankings by more than 2000 points with a tally of 8717.
Osaka to play
On the same day as Barty’s announcement, it was confirmed that Naomi Osaka would be playing at the Grand Slam following recent speculation. A report by Opencourt.ca said the 2018 champion is yet to sign up for the event, which has a deadline of August 3rd, and hasn’t entered to play in the Western and Southern Open.
In a statement issued to Reuters by Osaka’s management, they have now dismissed those claims. Saying the two-time Grand Slam winner would actually be playing at both events. Although it is unclear as to why the Japanese player didn’t sign up for the Western and Southern Open before the deadline.
Osaka hasn’t played in any exhibition events during the Tour Break and the last competitive match was during her country’s Fed Cup tie with Spain in February.
Reuters didn’t publish any quotes issued by Osaka’s management team.
Others in doubt
There are also doubts surrounding other members of the top 10 on the women’s Tour. Simona Halep, who pulled out of next week’s Palermo Open due to ‘travelling anxiety,’ is looking increasingly likely she will stick to European clay over the summer. The Romanian has said she is yet to make a decision but has signed on to play a clay-court tournament in Prague, which started three weeks before the US Open.
“It’s too early to make a decision, right now she would have to quarantine for two weeks after coming back from New York, so it’s a difficult situation. I’m more optimistic with regards to the French Open, I live in Paris and still wear a mask in public, but the situation has improved a lot and I think that a 50-60% capacity event might actually happen.” Halep’s manager Virginia Ruzici told UbiTennis earlier this month.
Meanwhile, Elina Svitolina has previously mentioned one of her potential plans includes returning to tennis in Madrid after the US Open. Hinting that she may focus her attention solely on the european swing ahead of the French Open.
“Considering how things are today, I think I will start in Madrid and will not play at the US Open,” Ukrainian Tennis portal btu.org.ua quoted Svitolina as saying on July 14th. “So this is what I think at the moment, but so it is not a 100% final decision.”
Angelique Kerber is another former Grand Slam winner yet to commit to the event.
The US Open will get underway on August 31st.
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