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US Open: Odds & Ends

Instead of traveling through the entire alphabet from A-Z looking back at the US Open fortnight at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow, New York, here is an “Odds & Ends” collection that glances at just what happened.

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Dominic Thiem - US Open 2020 (via Twitter, @usopen)
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Bubble, Bubble Toil & Probably Trouble 

Kristina Mladenovic (image via ubitennis.com)

Staging a tennis tournament during a pandemic was fraught with a great deal of worry. During a pre-event press conference on August 18, involving Michael Dowse, USTA CEO & Executive Director, USTA Chief Executive of Professional Tennis and Tournament Director Stacy Allaster, Dr. Bernard Camins, the Medical Director for Infection Prevention for the Mt. Sinai Health Systems, stated, “To clarify, if a player during competition were to test positive, under the New York State guidelines, that player would be withdrawn from the tournament, and we would begin isolation/quarantine protocols as outlined by the State of New York.

 

The press conference seemed to organize all of the virus related puzzle pieces. But, as proven to be the case throughout the US and around the world for that matter, Covid-19 plays by its own rules. Two days prior to the start of play, Benoît Paire of France tested positive and chaos ensued. Though he was out of the competition, he left an indelible mark. Electronic tracing found that Paire had spent time around countrymen Adrian Mannarino, Grégoire Barrère, Richard Gasquet and Édouard Roger-Vasselin, along with countrywoman, Kristina Mladenovic and two Belgium players, Kirsten Flipkens and Ysaline Bonaventure.

Due to that positive test, the “Paire Group” faced new restrictions including daily coronavirus testing and isolation from other players at their hotel and at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. (Initially, they were supposed to remain quarantined in their hotel until September 12th.)

As a result, some of the virus puzzle pieces had to be transformed. The change compelled the USTA to develop an entirely new set of procedures. Matters became even more confusing when Nassau County entered the fray. Dr. Camins had discussed following New York State guidelines, but the player hotels just happened to be in Nassau County. The location altered the protocol and made it essential for all of the players to sign yet another waiver. Unfortunately, the USTA had not worked with health care officials in that county which made it necessary to alter the rules for the players in the “Paire Group” once again. 

(As an aside, many wondered why two hotels so far from the National Tennis Center were used to house the players. Could it have been the result of the USTA negotiating a “good price” for the rooms needed? It was also pointed out there were instances when the “Bubble Hotels” were in fact, leaky bubbles. Some of the players, in residence, noted that assorted large group activities that weren’t related to tennis took place at the sites. The point – There were more open doors than everyone had been led to believe.)

The confusion surged when Mannarino and Alexander Zverev of Germany’s third round match was delayed for almost three hours while “can he play” negotiations took place. The contest finally took place, and Zverev triumphed in four sets.

Of all the players wrapped in the confusion’s netting, Mladenovic was the most thoroughly entwined. Leading 6-1, 5-1 in her second round match, she began to lose her poise, along with her confidence. She ended up dropping a 1-6, 7-6, 6-0 decision to Varvara Gracheva of Russian. Emotionally, following the contest, she said that the US Open was a nightmare of an experience and all she wanted to do was leave New York.

She probably should have started reading Shakespeare’s Macbeth interlude, “Song of the Witches” (“Double, double toil and trouble”) because her situation became worse. Seeded No. 1 in the Women’s Doubles with Timea Babos of Hungary, they had already scored a 6-2, 6-2 first round victory over Kaitlyn Christian of the US and Giuliana Olmos of Mexico. But, before their second round match, the duo was removed from the draw, thus losing an excellent opportunity to add another major to their collection of four.

The official statement said, “The USTA is obligated to adhere to government guidance at the State, City and County level. All persons who were identified as having had prolonged close contact with an infected player will quarantine in their rooms. Kristina Mladenovic was one of these individuals, and as the Women’s Doubles competition had begun, the women’s doubles team of Kristina Mladenovic and Timea Babos has been withdrawn from the US Open.”

It is important to note that after Paire’s initial positive test, all of his follow-up tests were negative. Everyone who had been exposed were tested daily and all of the results were negative. It is clear that Covid-19 is a virulent contagion. It is also clear that the USTA had not developed a realistic plan on how to fairly deal with those who were first exposed yet remained clean in all subsequent tests. L’Équipe , the legendary French daily sports newspaper, put the Bubble dealings in perspective with the  “US Open 2020: un tournoi amateur” headline.

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Grand Slam

Fanless Wimbledon Still On The Cards For Next Year, Says Organisers

The grass-court Grand Slam, which was first held in 1877, has outlined it’s plans for the coming months.

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The All England Lawn Tennis Club has vowed to hold next year’s Wimbledon Championships even if it means the tournament taking place behind closed doors.

 

This year’s grass-court major was axed for the first time since World War Two due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was the only Grand Slam to be cancelled. Although unlike the other three premier events, Wimbledon had the luxury of a pandemic insurance to cover some of its costs. The policy cost in the region of £1.5 million per year and was paid for more than 15 years in a row. Although full details of the payout has not been made public.

However, it will be a different scenario next year with the tournament being unable to be insured by the same policy due to the ongoing pandemic. Now organizers are looking at three options regarding hosting the event with the possibility of a full capacity, reduced capacity or no fans at all. The US Open was held behind closed doors earlier this year but the French Open did allow a limited number of fans. Any decision will be influenced by government policy around the time the event will take place.

Staging The Championships in 2021 is our number one priority and we are actively engaged in scenario planning in order to deliver on that priority,” AELTC Chief Executive Sally Bolton said in a statement.
“I would like to thank the government and public health authorities for their ongoing advice which will continue to be invaluable as The Championships 2021 draws closer. At the same time, we are delighted to demonstrate confidence in Wimbledon with the renewal of several partnerships across our commercial programme which play a significant contribution to the successful staging of The Championships both in 2021 and in the future.”

Amid the uncertainty, Wimbledon is still managing to maintain a strong corporate portfolio with Rolex recently agreeing to extend their partnership. The Swiss luxury watch manufacturer has been working with the Grand Slam since 1978 when it was named the official timekeeper. The AELTC have also renewed deals with Jaguar, IBM, Robinsons and Pimm’s. Meanwhile, Sipsmith has been named the first official gin of the Championships.

As well as planning for next year, Wimbledon has also reiterated their commitment to support those during the pandemic via its charitable foundation. The Wimbledon Foundation has set up a £1.2m Coronavirus Fund to help people living across Merton and Wandsworth, London, as well as other parts of the country. £750,000 has already been donated to local charities and organisations. Furthermore, 30,000 towels meant to be used at this year’s tournament has been redistributed for alternative use by the Foundation. For example 4000 towels were given to the homeless charity Crises.

“Since the cancellation of The Championships 2020, we have worked hard to make a difference to those in our local community and beyond as the coronavirus continues to have a significant impact on people’s lives,” said AELTC chairman Ian Hewitt.
“As the winter period begins, we are pleased to be extending our hot meals programme to continue to help those in need locally for the challenging months ahead. We are committed to using the collective strength of Wimbledon – all the many facets of the Club, The Championships and our Foundation – to play our part.”

The 2021 Wimbledon Championships is set to take place between Monday, 28th June and Sunday, 11th July.

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Crunch Time Beckons For 2021 Australian Tennis Season, Warns Tiley

The tennis chief speaks out about the challenges he faces in the coming weeks ahead of the start of the new tennis season.

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The head of Tennis Australia admits that plans for tournaments at the start of next year are still up in the air as he waits to hear back from local government officials.

 

Craig Tiley will be overseeing the string of events which also include the premier Australian Open. Prior to the Grand Slam officials are hoping to stage a series of tournaments around the country like it has done in previous years. Although due to the COVID-19 pandemic some states still have border restrictions which makes travelling more challenging.

The ongoing restrictions will be the most troublesome for the ATP Cup which is a multi-team men’s event that took place across three cities this year with Novak Djokovic guiding Serbia to the title. Tiley remains optimistic that everything can go ahead as planned but admits the decision is out of his hands.

“We’re getting to crunch time now. We need commitments from the governments and the health officers,” he told the Australian Associated Press (AAP).
“We need to kind of know in the next two weeks, maybe a month, that this is what can happen: borders are going to open and then we can have a multi-city event.
“If we cannot have a multi-city event, we’ve got to reconsider everything.”

Another key issue will be the 14-day quarantine process players will have to go through. Something they didn’t have at either the US Open or French Open. The hope is local authorities will relax their rules and allow players to train during this period. Enabling Tennis Australia to create a ‘bubble’ for them to live within.

“Right now the challenge we have is the borders are still closed,” he said.
“So we’ve got a plan on the basis that there will be all open borders.
“So we’re working with all state governments. We completely accept that everyone coming from overseas has got to have two weeks in quarantine.
“What we are negotiating, or what we’re trying to have an agreement on, is that we set up a quarantine environment where they can train and go between the hotel and the courts in those two weeks.
“That’s similar to the AFL.
“The difference we have with the AFL is we are bringing in players from overseas so the stakes are higher.”

If players are not allowed to train during this period, Tiley has reportedly ruled out staging the event all together.

“If a player has to quarantine and be stuck in a hotel for two weeks just before their season, that won’t happen,” he stated on Thursday.
“You can’t ask players to quarantine for two weeks and then step out and be ready to play a grand slam.”

According to the AAP, the Melbourne major is set to take place with 25% of its usual crowd capacity and players will be allowed to travel with three members of their team.

The Australian Open is set to get underway on January 18th. Djokovic and Sofia Kenin are the reigning champions.

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A Solitary Stroll Through Roland Garros

The small number of spectators reveals glimpses of the Parisian system that are often hidden

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PARIS – Seeing the avenues that connect the various fields of a relatively deserted Slam tournament is an experience that rarely happens during the course of the tournament, and is normally limited to the days or periods in which access is allowed only to staff members. During the 2020 French Open, however, it was quite common to see the areas in front of the various courts almost completely empty.

 

What you see below is the area between the southern Grandstand of the Philippe Chatrier court and the various commercial stands that border the area reserved to camera crews. When a match has just finished on the main court, that area becomes very crowded and going from the beginning to the end of that stretch, more or less 50 meters long, could take up to ten minutes.

The South Side of Court Philippe Chatrier


At the bottom of this passage is the new “Musketeers Square”, an open space that was enlarged for the 2020 edition thanks to the demolition of the old Court 1, the famous “bullring”, which was inaugurated in 1980 but has now been replaced by the Court Simonne Mathieu as the third most important court of the Roland Garros.

Musketeers Square
Court Philippe Chatrier seen from Musketeers Square

A giant screen has been placed in this area (to mimic Wimbledon’s notorious “Henman hill” and the US Open’s “main plaza” opposite the main entrance of Arthur Ashe Stadium), as well at tables for spectators and the main commercial stands for the sponsors of the tournament.

The Roland Garros Boutique
The East side of Musketeers Square

In the background of the Musketeers Square, to the left of this image is the tournament’s official Boutique, where the official Roland Garros merchandise is sold, while the gateway leading to the Serre d’Auteuil and the Court Simonne Mathieu is at the bottom, after the commercial stands and courts 2 and 4.

The Court Simonne Mathieu, inaugurated in 2019, was built as a compromise between the expansion of Roland Garros and the conservation of the Auteuil greenhouses. The court is surrounded by greenhouses, one on each side, which symbolize the ecosystem of four continents of the earth with plants typical of each of these habitats.

Returning to Philippe Chatrier, courts 2 and 4 can be seen – they are among those that have the smallest stands and are typically used for training during “standard” editions of the tournament. This year, however, players were not allowed to enter the facility on the days when they were not supposed to compete, and therefore these courts were used almost exclusively for matches.

Looking beyond the Philippe Chatrier court, you can see the unmistakable profile of the Court Suzanne Lenglen, in front of which there is a high relief dedicated to the unforgettable champion of the 1920’s.

Court Suzanne Lenglen

Part of the area in front of the second main court is currently a construction site, as two of the courts are being rebuilt as part of the project that will see a mobile roof built over the Suzanne Lenglen to allow the tournament to have a second court with a retractable roof and to prepare the facility to host boxing matches during the 2024 Paris Olympics.

During this year’s tournament, all the refreshment stands around the Suzanne Lenglen court were not opened due to the particularly low number of spectators (only 1000 per session allowed by the French authorities), including one that allowed order through the tournament’s app and to collect it without having to queue like in traditional stores.

Behind the Suzanne Lenglen, the newest area of ​​the facility is to be found, with courts numbered from 12 to 14, plus two training courts, number 15 and 16. All of these courts have been equipped with artificial lighting mounted on telescopic pylons so that they can be lowered during the day and thus not cause the characteristic shadows on the court that can disturb the players.

As a gift to the authorised press members, and to try to increase the turnover of the present bar, journalists were given the opportunity to access the catwalk on the sixth floor of the Philippe Chatrier, usually reserved for stand-up TV sports shows. A rather peculiar view of the matches on the main court is to be had up here – the area has some tables to the work as well as a fully functional air conditioning system.

Translated by Andrea Ferrero; edited by Tommaso Villa

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