It’s one of the top calendar sporting events of the year, drawing tennis greats and followed widely across the globe. However, the US Open, this year, will be quite unlike the ones that came before, shorn of top stars and legends in the game.
Reason? The novel coronavirus pandemic, which has swept the globe taking lives as if they’re straws waiting to be plucked, ravaging economies and putting millions out of work.
While the world has been counting the ever-growing cost of this virus that has unleashed itself on the entire human race, the United States is arguably the worst affected by it. It currently leads the world in terms of the number of cases recorded daily and with no news of a vaccine anytime soon, there’s no saying when or how soon this monster will be tamed.
Although sporting action has resumed, albeit watchfully, top tennis stars have pulled out of the year’s last Grand Slam, amidst the continuing spike in COVID cases in America. Wimbledon has already been one of the high-profile casualties of COVID this year, and, with top draws withdrawing, there were fears that the US Open, too, could go down the same road.
Swiss tennis ace Roger Federer, who has 20 Grand Slam titles under his belt, pulled out of the calendar event citing two surgeries on his troublesome right knee. While he didn’t say as much, one assumes that the fear of COVID may also have had something to do with his decision to withdraw.
Spaniard Rafael Nadal, who has 19 Slams to his credit, was more forthright as he withdrew from the tournament citing COVID concerns.
“After many thoughts I have decided not to play this year’s US Open. The situation is very complicated worldwide, the Covid-19 cases are increasing, it looks like we still don’t have control of it,”Nadal tweeted.
Following in the footsteps of Nadal and women’s top seed Ash Barty, no. 5-ranked Elina Svitolina of Ukraine and no. 7-ranked Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands also withdrew from the tournament.
“The situation around Covid-19 is still that worrying and the health of everyone and control over this virus is priority (sic),”Bertens wrote.
Men’s 13th-seed Stanislas Wawrinka, Italian Fabio Fognini and Frenchman Gael Monfils are among the other top names to have withdrawn from the hard-court event.
While men’s top seed Novak Djokovic, US Slam queen Serena Williams and Scotsman Andy Murray have been listed as entries for the tournament, none of them has yet confirmed participation.
Sending the tennis world in shock, the Serbian star had earlier confirmed he had tested positive for coronavirus. His coach and former Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic, too, tested positive for COVID-19.
“Unfortunately, after testing negative twice in the last 10 days, I have just found out that I’ve tested positive for Covid-19,” the Croat, one of the biggest servers in the game, posted on Instagram.
Adria Tour 2020, an exhibition tennis event organised by Djokovic, courted infamy as rising Bulgarian tennis star Grigor Dimitrov, along with two other top stars who featured in the event, tested positive for the virus. The event, which drew thousands on match days, saw little enforcement of health protocols to prevent infection.
So, is the US Open on the cards then? There were reports a few months back that the tournament might be moved to California in the wake of rising Covid cases in New York. However, the latest word is that the year’s fourth grand slam will be held at the Big Apple amid a strict set of protocols. NY governor Andrew Cuomo recently confirmed that New York will, indeed, host the tournament starting end-August.
While the cloud over the US Open has lifted, it remains to be seen if the event, sans spectators, draws robust global viewership.