No fans in the stand. No media on-site. And a soccer field right outside of Arthur Ashe Stadium?
This will certainly be a very different US Open.
But the USTA’s signature event is on and will be coming to a television near you on Aug. 31.
That’s the good news.
The question, though, remains what kind of a US Open will we be seeing come September?
There’s going to be plenty of precautions in place and the USTA will use all available space to allow for social distancing of the players.
And of course, there will be testing for the COVID-19 virus, so much so that you will hear the word “testing” more than at a sound check at a WHO concert.
Really, though, all of there precautions are needed because the tournament needs to make sure the biggest names are coming.
Serena Williams is in. She announced it today via a video at the Zoom press conference heald by the USTA.
“Ultimately, I really cannot wait to return to New York and play the US Open 2020,” Williams said. “I feel like the USTA is going to do a really good job of ensuring everything is amazing and everything is amazing and everyone is safe.”
So that’s a start. But if it’s Serena and none of the other top players, then the level of competition will considerably drop. No one wants to see a player like Williams just walk through. She needs to be tested in those two weeks and challenged.
Simona Halep, Ash Barty, and fellow American Sofia Kenin need to be in the tournament.
On the men’s side, both Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal need to join in, with Roger Federer on the sidelines with an injury.
The star power needs to come to New York.
And the USTA feels that it will happen.
“We are going to have incredible star power. We respect that all athletes are making their own decisions. There are a lot of questions,” tournament director Stacey Allaster said. “Athletes have been training and now they really are going to be training to return to play and as this whole situation with the virus evolves, here in New York City and around the world, athletes will make that final determination two-to-three weeks before.”
The USTA is doing everything in its power to make sure that happens. There’s $60 million in prize money, which is 90 percent of last year’s winnings and its moving the Western and Southern Open, usually in Cincinnati, to Flushing Meadows so the tune-up will be in the same region.
And credit the US Open for doing this. It’s taking a bath this year with revenues projected to be down 80 percent, but dipping into the reserves to keep the prize money up and ready to go.
But no one is forcing the players to come. These are independent contractors, who may just feel it’s not worth the risk for the payday, especially those, like Nadal and Djokovic, who are coming from foreign countries.
Even if that happens, a watered-down field may be better than no field at all. Life needs to return to some sort of normalcy and having the Open at least on TV is a good thing, even without the cheer of the crowd.
So, yeah, the first step is done. The Open is on. It’s now up to the USTA to make it competitive and compelling.