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International Sports Tennis

The US Open, Dogged with Withdrawals and Criticism, is Trotting Ahead

The annual tournament, one of the 4 major tennis Grand Slams, commences behind closed doors for the first time on 31 August 2020, albeit with vastly differing narratives from past years.

A Grand Slam without its glorious crowd

Like many other global spectacles in the sporting world, tennis sees its fair share of restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 virus. Tennis’ restart in mid-July was met with mixed reactions following its uncertain calendar, and complications now follow its major Slams.

For starters, the matches taking place in Flushing Meadows and its famed Arthur Ashe Stadium will be watched on by a spectator count of zero. The first time since its inception, the 140-year tournament will be fully televised in an effort to curb the pandemic’s reach.

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Arthur Ashe Stadium will be donned with a scrim hiding empty audience seats, with several large LED screens strategically positioned to display scores and announcements.

This comes after 2 other Grand Slams, the French Open and the Wimbledon Championships, both traditionally held before its US counterpart, were postponed and cancelled, respectively.

Often touted as the largest spectacle of the 4 slams, organisers of the New York-based tournament were initially skeptical of progressing, with prominent voices within the tennis sphere voicing disapproval of a tournament held without fans, if at all.

They’d made their concerns public on 7 July; a week later, the body reversed their sentiment, and announced its commencement of the tournament as planned.

Naturally the decision amassed significant backlash — most understandably with the host country battling a spike in infections — prompting condemnation from tennis notables and withdrawals from prominent players.

Who’s in and who’s out

As high-profile match-ups go, the tournament will be lacking its usual flair and splendor with the mounting list of withdrawals.

Of the players to have pulled out, marquee names like defending champion Rafael Nadal and women’s World No.1 Ashleigh Barty have been resolute in their non-participation of the tournament early on in July.

The Women’s 2019 Roland Garros winner felt there are “still significant risks involved due to COVID-19“.

“I don’t feel comfortable putting my team and I in that position. I wish the USTA all the best for the tournaments and look forward to being back in the U.S. next year.”

Quickly following Barty’s announcement was 2004’s winner Svetlana Kuznetsova, who also cited the logistics and safety of getting her team together, as well as the safety of those around her as the main reasons for her withdrawal.

“I feel very sad, because I have been (waiting) for these tournaments so much, but the pandemic changes all plans.”

Defending women’s champion Bianca Andreescu, reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep, Kiki Bertens, and Belinda Bencic have also pulled out. That means as it stands, half of the women’s world top 10 will not be seen in New York.

Instead, it is likely that these players will participate in European tournaments like the French Open, which commences just a week after the US Open closes curtains.

US representative Serena Williams has said that this is an ‘asterisk year’ for tennis, citing that a sport’s tournaments and competitions will forever be tainted by special circumstances, such as wars or pandemics.

“I think this whole year deserves an asterisk, because it’s such a special year, a history we have never been through in this world.”

Rafael Nadal has meanwhile expressed on social media that the remaining fixtures for the rest of the season are ‘barbaric’, following his withdrawal announcement.

Australia’s Nick Kyrgios, who has been vocally critical about tennis’ irresponsibility since the pandemic, has withdrawn from the 2020 season altogether.

The Australian has, rightly so, publicly condemned influential players like Novak Djokovic and Borna Coric after they organised an exhibition tournament where several top players eventually tested positive, putting players and communities’ safety at risk.

“Dear Tennis, let us take a breath here and remember what is important, which is health and safety as a community,” Kyrgios said.

“Even with the [Black Lives Matter] movement and the whole protests and that type of stuff going on over there, I just don’t think at the moment it’s the correct time to go ahead with sport, in my opinion.”

Both Djokovic and Coric will be participating in New York. Roger Federer has announced his withdrawal citing injury, while Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev are confirmed, which means at the moment nearly half of the World’s Men’s top 10 will not be participating.

Kei Nishikori, who pulled out of the Western and Southern Open tournaments because of positive COVID tests, has also withdrawn his participation in the Grand Slam. This comes after he announced that he was finally clear of the virus on 27 August.

The Japanese has also been battling an elbow injury for the better half of a year.

“I am happy to announce that I tested negative for COVID,” he shared on his app.

“Having said that, I (together with my team) have decided to skip the US Open this year. After such a long break I feel that returning in a best of 5 long-match setting is not smart until I am fully ready to do so.”

The US Open runs from 31 August 2020 to 13 September 2020.

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