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U.S. Open Tennis In The Balance As Laver Cup Is Cancelled

By Alix Ramsay

The top brass at the USTA are keeping their fingers crossed and playing a waiting game – the final decision on whether to hold the US Open at the end of August will be made in the next six weeks. The Laver Cup, though, has given in to the inevitable and announced that it will be postponed until September 2021.

As the biggest tournaments in the world jostle for position to claim a slot in the final weeks of the year – and cling to the desperate hope that the Covid-19 pandemic will not cause the whole season to be cancelled – the US Open does have a little room for manoeuvre.

They are not due to open for business until August 31 which gives them some time, although not much, to make plans. At the moment, the USTA is keeping all options open but the CEO and Executive Director of the organisation, Mike Dowse, said in a conference call on Thursday that playing the tournament behind closed doors was not part of their thinking.  

“To be honest and open, I think that’s highly unlikely,” he said. “That’s not really in the spirit of the celebration of tennis. It also goes back to the health and wellbeing of not just the spectators but of our players and support staff that help run the tournament.

“Unless the medical industry or medical experts come up with a solution that truly is foolproof and safe, we don’t see that as an option.

“Having said that, things are fluid. If the medical experts come back and say here is a foolproof way of running a very safe tournament, unfortunately it has to be without fans, we may reconsider and look at it. Today it’s just too early to kind of speculate on what the exact specifics will be at that time.”

As he spoke, the death toll in New York City rose to more than 10,000. The city is in lockdown and people are scared. The streets are quiet and the subway stations are all but empty. The idea that in four months’ time, three quarters of a million people could be jamming themselves into trains and buses to get to Flushing Meadows just to watch some tennis is unimaginable.

“Obviously our ambition is to run the tournament,” Dowse said. “It’s the engine that drives our organisation, our governing body. Having said that, that won’t be the driving factor.

“The driving factor will be the health and wellbeing of the players, the fans and our staff. To that we just don’t have enough information that we can run the tournament safely.

“We’ve set a time frame around June to make that decision. The way we’re approaching it is through a medical advisory group. We have five or six doctors that are consulting with us on a regular basis. Based off that information, we’ll ultimately make the decision if it’s safe to play the tournament or not.”

One possible idea, mooted weeks ago, was that the Open could be moved back until later in the year. The French Tennis Federation was the first to do this, moving the dates for Roland Garros from May and June to September and October. The US Open, then, would have to be after that but there are only a finite number of weeks in the year and as the seasons change, New York’s temperatures are usually around the mid-50s to mid-60s Fahrenheit in October. By November, it can be 10 degrees colder.

The ATP’s new President, meanwhile, also has his eyes on some of the precious weeks in the last quarter of the year. Andrea Gaudenzi said last week that if the pandemic subsides and if professional sport resumes, he would like to see a mini clay court season in the autumn to include at least two Masters 1000 events.

With the calendar in such a state of flux, the Laver Cup organisers admitted defeat. Their event was due to be held in Boston on September 25-27, right in the middle of the rescheduled French Open. After a few weeks of watching to see how the season might unfold, the Laver Cup 2020 was finally cancelled on Friday. It will be held in Boston next year on September 24-26.

“We needed to make a decision now on our event,” Laver Cup Chairman and CEO of TEAM8, Tony Godsick, said. “This is the responsible course of action, necessitated by the emerging calendar conflicts.”

“We wanted to call it now to provide certainty for our fans as well as our players, sponsors, broadcasters, partners, staff, volunteers and of course the great city of Boston.” 

In the meantime, the USTA can only wait and hope.


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