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Gov. Andrew Cuomo OKs U.S. Open to be held without fans

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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Tuesday that the U.S. Open tennis tournament would be played this year at the USTA. Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Credit: NY Governor's Office

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has green-lighted the U.S. Open tennis tournament.

  In his daily COVID-19 pandemic news conference on Tuesday Cuomo said the Open would be played as scheduled at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows.

   “We’re excited about the U.S. Open [which] is going to be held in Queens Aug. 31 though Sept. 13,” Cuomo said. “It will be held without fans, but you can watch it on TV and I’ll take that. The tennis authorities are going to be taking extraordinary precautions.”

   Cuomo’s announcement also includes the United States Tennis Association’s plan for a doubleheader at the tennis center. The Western & Southern Open, a top-tier men’s and women’s tournament owned by the USTA and usually played in Cincinnati as a run-up to the Open, would be staged before it.

  “We are incredibly excited that Governor Cuomo and New York State have today approved our plan to host the 2020 US Open and 2020 Western & Southern Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center,” said Mike Dowse, CEO of the USTA in a statement.  “We recognize the tremendous responsibility of hosting one of the first global sporting events in these challenging times, and we will do so in the safest manner possible, mitigating all potential risks.”

    “We’ve built a very collaborative plan,” a highly informed  source told Newsday on Monday. “We built that plan with health and safety and mitigation of risk at the forefront of all of our decisions. That plan was built in consultation with our medical advisory group, with other medical experts, with a number of security experts and in collaboration with the ATP and WTA Tours.”

   The plan includes extensive testing for the coronavirus, housing players in a central location outside of Manhattan, expanded locker room space and limiting the number of people in players’ entourages and in all phases of the operation.

   There will be no qualifying tournament for the Open this year, which annually determines 16 spots in both the men’s and women’s field of 128 players each. The fields presumably will be filled through the world rankings and wild-card invitations.

  Players whose rankings would have put them in qualifying tournaments will be compensated with funds the USTA will give to the ATP and WTA tours to distribute.

   Several top players, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Ashleigh Barty and Simona Halep, have raised concerns over travel restrictions, potential quarantines, limits on the number of people a player can bring with them and a plan to house all players at a central location.

  Australian Nick Kyrgios used Twitter to criticize the USTA plans to go ahead with the Open, calling it “selfish."

   "People that live in the US of course are pushing the Open to go ahead," Kyrgios wrote on his Twitter account. "I’ll get my hazmat suit ready for when I travel from Australia and then have to quarantine for 2 weeks on my return.”

   USTA revenues are driven almost entirely by the U.S. Open, estimated to be $350 million annually, which includes ESPN’s $70 million yearly rights fees, more from television entities around the world and ticket and corporate suite  sales to an announced attendance of more than 700,000 over two weeks.

  The USTA already has cut back on expenditures, made staff reductions of more than 100 people and is closing its office in White Plains. It needs whatever revenue it can get out of this Open to keep funding initiatives across the country.

   The Australian Open is the only Grand Slam event to have been played this year, in January. The French Open, scheduled to start at the end of May, was postponed until a week after the U.S. Open. Wimbledon was canceled outright, benefitting from its pandemic insurance policy. So now the U.S. Open is the year’s second major.

 “We can showcase tennis as the ideal social distancing sport,” Dowse said in his statement. “Being able to hold these events in 2020 is a boost for the City of New York and the entire tennis landscape.”

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