New York, Jun 17 (efe-epa).- American tennis great Serena Williams said Wednesday she plans to compete in this year’s US Open despite the strict coronavirus-triggered security measures that will be in place, a decision that comes after Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic cast doubt on their participation in that Grand Slam hard-court event.
“This announcement has been on my mind all day, but ultimately I really cannot wait to return to New York and play the US Open 2020,” the six-time champion said in a brief video posted to social media.
“I feel like the USTA (the United States Tennis Association, which organizes the tournament) is going to do a really good job of ensuring everything is amazing and everything is perfect and everyone is safe,” the current world No. 9 said, adding that it is going to be “exciting” for her and the other players to get back on court after the long hiatus.
Williams said, however, that she will miss the New York crowds, whom she credited with helping her get through tough matches in the past.
Although there had been some doubt as to whether spectators would be allowed on the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in the New York City borough of Queens, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday that the tournament would be played behind closed doors.
The USTA explained the reasoning behind that decision at a press conference on Wednesday.
“The decision to hold the 2020 US Open without fans was not an easy one, but ultimately it was the correct one,” said Stacey Allaster, the USTA’s chief executive for professional tennis and the US Open’s tournament director.
“To mitigate risk, we must minimize numbers on-site. Though we will not have fans on our site, we will engage with tennis fans around the world in new and exciting ways with the help of our global broadcast partners, and all our US Open sponsors.”
That means access to the tournament grounds will be restricted to the “players, their entourages, staff, broadcasters and all others associated with the on-site workings,” the USTA said in a press release on Wednesday.
The US Open, which will be held from Aug. 31 to Sept. 13, will not feature the traditional singles qualifying tournaments or the mixed doubles, juniors or wheelchair competitions.
While the men’s and women’s singles events will both have their typical 128-player draws, the men’s doubles and women’s doubles events will be reduced from 64 teams to 32 teams apiece (restricted to players who are not competing in the singles).
The decisions to bar fans from the grounds and eliminate or reduce some of the competitions were both made with the goal of “limiting the number of individuals on site at one time,” the USTA said in the press release.
In another significant change, the USTA also announced that the Western and Southern Open, a key US Open hard-court tune-up event that is normally played outside Cincinnati, Ohio, will be held this year at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center from Aug. 19 to Aug. 28.
“Hosting the two events in one centralized location mitigates risk and allows for one cohesive medical, training and competition environment, with safety measures to be put in place, including testing, mitigation measures, sanitization, and other protocols,” the governing body for tennis in the US said in the same press release.
While Williams’ decision to participate comes as a huge relief for the tournament’s organizers, the men’s event may have to make do without all three of the players who have dominated the sport for the past 16 years: Nadal, Djokovic and Swiss great Roger Federer.
Djokovic, a three-time champion, has expressed concern that his entire entourage would not have access to the grounds of the US Open and indicated that he will not be making the trip to New York.
“Most of the players I have talked to were quite negative on whether they would go there. For me, as things now stand, the season will most likely continue on clay at the beginning of September,” he told Serbian public broadcaster RTS last week.
The Serbian world No. 1 was referring to preparations for the French Open, tennis’ premier clay-court event, which normally is played in late May and early June but, because of the pandemic, is currently scheduled to take place from Sept. 20 to Oct. 4.
Nadal, the defending US Open champion and four-time winner, told reporters early this month that he has no current plans to play in this year’s event in New York but will see how events unfold over the next two months.
“The key, of course, is to find a (vaccine) that helps us to be sure we can travel and compete without being scared of having the virus and bringing back the virus home. My feeling is we need to wait a little bit more,” the Spanish world No. 2 said.