Desperate US Open officials are hoping to save their Grand Slam from a COVID-19 cancellation by combining the event with August’s Cincinnati Masters.
The New York Times reported the off-the-wall brainstorm on Tuesday as tennis struggles to construct a late-summer comeback after the total virus shutdown which began in March.
The paper said that Open bosses have suggested playing the Cincinnati ATP-WTA tournament on the empty grounds at Flushing Meadows at its original date (August 17 start) before staging their own fan-free fortnight from August 31.
They theorise that the idea would create a “safe bubble” over the long haul, with players limited to just one other team member, locker rooms and practice court bookable by appointment only, constant daily virus tests and all players lodged somewhere outside of Manhattan, a former illness hotspot until just a week or so ago.
Already, speculation is that top players – most notably the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic – will not bow to such a restrictive set of conditions.
“It is far from certain that either tournament can be played this year, but the maneuver is designed to help draw the needed support of government and public health officials as they manage the outbreak, travel and the economy,” the paper wrote.
‘It is also unclear, especially given quarantine guidelines, whether enough players would be prepared to travel to New York, one of the disease’s epicentres.’
The proposal has reportedly been passed along to the ATP and WTA, whose own bosses are currently huddled online around the globe trying to save what can be salvaged from the 2020 season to forget.
No decisions are said to be likely before mid-month at the earliest.
Though the US has said that foreign athletes can come to the country and skip a 14-day quarantine, so far the bureaucratic promise has not been tested.
With the majority of players European – Americans have a minimal impact in the upper reaches of the the sport – problems can be easily foreseen given the current chaotic state on the streets of the US combined with the virus pandemic.
The Open would likely take some kind of financial hit after 850,000 fans attended the 2019 edition.
The massive logistical complications were laid bare by WTA executive Stacey Allaster, who told the Times:
“They (players arriving on possible group charter flights) will have to have been symptom-free for a certain period of time before travel and have had no known contact with anyone with Covid-19.”
Wheelchair tennis, junior and veteran events would be scrapped under the USTA plan and “ball adults” wearing gloves – no touching of towels allowed – would be on court chasing around after points.
Men’s matches might possibly reduced from best-of-five sets to best-of-three, though officials deny that could be in the works.
Were ESPN be prepared to broadcast the empty spectacle, fan noises would likely be laid on to simulate reality for viewers
Top players might even be assigned one of the dozens of VIP guest suites located high in the Aashe stadium for their personal use to maintain social distancing, the paper suggested.
Outdoor space normally given over to fans would be repurposed into player relax zones. Added Allaster: “We see them chilling out and having a coffee and having some jazz musicians there.”
Players would also possibly not be allowed to leave their group hotel – wherever that might be – with the problem of how to eat off-site immediately coming to mind.
They would be ferried to the site in dedicated transport – though possibly not in the luxury auto transport they re used to at normal Opens.