The global coronavirus pandemic has drastically changed the landscape of the sports world. Beginning with a worldwide shutdown of sports in March followed with the return of American sports leagues this summer, there have been numerous changes to the ways sports have resumed, and hosting sporting events without fans in attendance for health and safety reasons has been a major change.
Here are the changes that will make this year's US Open historically different than those of years past:
Impact of the 2020 schedule changes
In a normal year, tennis' Grand Slams are played in this order:
- Australian Open in mid January
- French Open in late May
- Wimbledon in late June
- The season concludes with the US Open in late August
This year, however, the US Open is just the second Grand Slam of the 2020 season. The last and only Slam this year was the 2020 Australian Open six months ago, which saw Novak Djokovic and Sofia Kenin take home the singles titles. Wimbledon, scheduled to begin on June 29, became the first major to announce its cancellation. Meanwhile, the French Open announced a rescheduling of their 2020 tournament. They pushed back from their original May start to late September.
The US Open is slightly postponed, just one week from the original start date. The New York-based tournament is being held from Aug. 31 through Sept. 13. With these scheduling changes, the French Open is set to begin just two weeks after the conclusion of the US Open.
So now, because of the coronavirus' impact on the professional tennis circuit this year, players will not only have to undergo a quick turnaround if they are hoping to compete in both majors (the last of 2020), but they will have to also make the transition from hard court to clay, which could be particularly challenging considering the differences in strategy and footwork between the two surfaces. Then you also throw in an added layer of complexity for players undergoing international travel amid the coronavirus pandemic.
No fans in Flushing this year
The US Open -- held at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center -- is known for its electric atmosphere year after year. Lacking the buzz from an always lively New York crowd, this year's US Open will be unlike any other. Normally, up to 30,000 fans visit the Billie Jean King Center daily throughout the two-week long event.
This year, players and their coaching teams -- along with broadcast partners and tournament staff -- will be the only people allowed on-site. Players and their teams (limited to three people) will undergo daily coronavirus testing during their time at the tournament, and they're all set up in a "controlled environment," similar to the NBA's one-location "bubble" or the NHL's two-city hub, on Long Island and in Queens, New York. All those involved will be required to wear masks and adhere to the social distancing guideline of staying six feet apart.
Some players, like youngster Coco Gauff, isn't letting the fan-less matches affect her.
"I mean, it's still tennis, the same court, the same balls, regardless if there's fans or not," Gauff told the media on Friday. "I'm still going to compete just as hard, regardless if there are fans or not."
World No. 3 Dominic Thiem predicts that the loss of fans' energy at the US Open will be felt.
"Tennis is such a mental sport, and I guess it makes it way more difficult without fans." Thiem said.
In particular, Thiem noted the mainstay court at the Billie Jean King Center, Arthur Ashe Stadium. It's the largest stadium at the complex, and the largest tennis stadium in the world, for that matter, with a capacity of 23,771. The roar of an Ashe crowd is simply unbeatable when compared to the crowds of other Grand Slams, thanks to the stadium's sheer size.
"Because just imagine playing in the fifth set on Arthur Ashe, night session, way past midnight and in a normal year, you get so much energy from the fans, they give you so much," Thiem said. "Now, in an empty stadium maybe your coach and your team is there, but these are the only people, it makes it very, very lonely, very, very tough. It's going to be a very interesting thing to experience. But it's the same for everybody, and the one who will do it the best, who will manage these special circumstances the best will be the one who lifts the trophy at the end."
Big names are sitting out
Not every player will be making the trip to New York. Several top tennis stars have made the decision to opt out of the tournament, with many citing coronavirus concerns as the reason.
On the men's side, the most notable absences will be No. 2-ranked Rafael Nadal and No. 4 Roger Federer. Nadal cited the coronavirus pandemic still not being under control, and said he did not feel it would be safe to participate. Federer will miss the US Open due to his continued rehab from knee operations earlier this year. No. 40 Nick Kyrgios also won't be on hand.
For the women's side, six of the WTA's top 10 players will not be participating in this year's US Open:
- No. 1 Ashleigh Barty
- No. 2 Simona Halep
- No. 5 Elina Svitolina
- No. 7 Kiki Bertens
- No. 8 Belinda Bencic
Defending champion Bianca Andreescu will also miss the tournament, due to a knee injury.
While some of the star power will be missing this year, two of the sport's veterans are among the favorites to win it all. Former US Open champions Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams are the top picks to take home the 2020 US Open singles titles. Djokovic, 33, will be aiming for his 18th Grand Slam title while Williams, 38, will once again try to tie Margaret Court's all-time grand slam record of 24.
The US Open will see returns from former top players
Three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray will make his return to New York for the first time in two years after battling through a lingering right hip injury (Murray underwent hip surgeries in 2018 and 2019). The latter, "Birmingham hip" (BHR) operation, an alternative to a full hip replacement, involved placing a metal cap over the femur. Since then, Murray has been able to return to playing tennis at a high-level, and he's finally playing pain-free. Murray has one US Open championship on his resume, a five-set defeat over Novak Djokovic back in 2012.
Another familiar name making a comeback is Kim Clijsters. The former World No. 1 is returning to the sport of tennis once again. Clijsters, 37, is a two-time retiree and she's now eight years removed since her second retirement back in 2012. Her first retirement came at the age of 23-years-old in 2007. She'll be a wild-card entry and hold an unranked status at this year's US Open. Clijsters is a four-time Grand Slam singles champion, taking home the US Open trophy three times, in 2005, 2009 and 2010.
How to watch
- Date: August 31 - September 13
- Location: USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, New York, New York
- Channel: ESPN, ESPN2, Tennis Channel
- Streaming: fuboTV (try free for 7 days)
- Highlights: CBS Sports HQ
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