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U.S. Open considers allowing limited number of fans

A general view of Louis Armstrong stadium during

A general view of Louis Armstrong stadium during day one of the U.S. Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 26, 2019. Credit: Getty Images for USTA/Mike Stobe

The United States Tennis Association said Friday it is considering holding the U.S. Open in New York at the end of the summer in front of limited fans or possibly no fans.

Those are two scenarios being weighed by the governing body of American tennis, according to Chris Widmaier, the USTA’s head of communications.

“The USTA continues to model many different scenarios regarding the 2020 U.S. Open,” Widmaier told Newsday in an email Friday. “Our top goal is to conduct the U.S. Open in New York in our scheduled dates. To that end, we are modeling many potential scenarios which include both limited fans and potentially no fans on site for the event."

The Open is scheduled to run Aug. 24-Sept. 13 at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, and Widmaier said the timetable for making a decision on whether or how to hold the event remains mid-June.

“All actions regarding the U.S. Open will place the health and safety of everyone involved in the event, from players, to staff, to broadcast partners, etc., at the forefront of our decision-making,” he said. “We continue to work closely with our Medical Advisory Group and with government officials at the federal, state and City level as we build out these models.”

In late March, 12 tennis courts at the Queens facility’s indoor training space were transformed into supplemental hospital space that could accommodate 470 patients. The space was never fully utilized, and the U.S. Open announced on May 14 that the hospital had been officially closed and was being disassembled and sanitized. Louis Armstrong Stadium, which had been used for meal preparations for front liners and first responders, has also been vacated. 

The ATP and WTA Tours are canceled until July 13. Wimbledon has already been canceled while the French Open, which would have been taking place this week, took the unique step of pushing its event back until the week after the U.S. Open (Sept. 20-Oct. 4).

There is some thought that having a U.S. Open played at its customary venue could give New York a welcome morale boost. There is also some thought that it remains too dangerous, given that players from all over the world would be converging on one site for two weeks.

Some prominent players are unsure if there should be a return to competition this year.

“I don’t think training would be a problem, but competing . . . I see it very difficult,” defending U.S. Open champion Rafael Nadal told a Spanish newspaper earlier this month. “It’s a moment to be responsible and coherent, so I don’t see how we can travel every week to a different country.

“I would be OK playing without fans, even though that’s not what we want, but unfortunately, from what I’m seeing, even though things are improving, for our sport I don’t see it prudent to be competing again any time soon.”

The NBA has been letting teams resume player workouts since May 8, depending on local restrictions, and is in talks with Walt Disney World about using its facility to resume the season.

Commissioner Gary Bettman announced earlier this week that the NHL will go straight to a 24-team playoff if they are able to resume the season over the summer. Major League Baseball remains in discussions with its players about how to return to play. The NFL is planning to hold its season as scheduled and there have been reports it could open minicamps as soon as next week. NASCAR resumed its season on May 17, while the PGA Tour is set to return with the Charles Schwab Challenge on June 11. MLS is allowing teams to use outdoor fields for individual workouts.

On Thursday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said fans would be allowed to attend outdoor events in his state at up to 25 percent capacity.

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