The United States Tennis Association issued a statement on Monday reaffirming its commitment to stage the U.S. Open on its scheduled dates of Aug. 31 to Sept. 13 at the National Tennis Center if circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic permit.
In an interview for the April 30 edition of Inside Tennis magazine, USTA executive director Michael Dowse said one scenario under consideration is to move the U.S. Open to the Indian Wells tournament site in California in November. But the USTA statement clarified that keeping the final Grand Slam event in New York is the top priority if it can be done safely.
“Our plans to stage the U.S. Open on our scheduled dates at the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center in New York with fans, remain on-going,” the statement said. “However, we recognize that we are all facing an uncertain and rapidly changing environment regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and…have been aggressively modeling many other contingencies, including scenarios with no fans.
“We would like to clarify that, while we are exploring every possibility around the U.S. Open, the potential to shift the event location or date is not at the forefront at this point in time.”
The statement indicated the USTA is working with New York State and New York City government officials and their own medical advisory group to assess the situation. The target date for a decision is “six to eight weeks away (mid-June).”
As part of the Inside Tennis interview, Dowse raised the possibility of playing in New York without fans or moving to Indian Wells, which has a main arena seating 16,100. “Nothing is off the table,” Wells was quoted. “No formal decision has been made about Indian Wells.”
In a previous media conference call, Dowse said playing without spectators “is not really in the spirit of the celebration of tennis.” However, even though California governor Gavin Newsom is taking steps to open that state this week, he has expressed strong reservations about holding sporting events with mass gatherings of fans. In addition, there is no guarantee the same television windows would be available for the USTA in the U.S. and Europe if other sports leagues are operating in November.
At the moment, the indoor facility at the National Tennis Center is being used as a temporary hospital, and the commissary at Louis Armstrong Stadium is a staging area for food preparation and deliveries to hospital workers on the front lines. But that might not be necessary in another month.
“The USTA is doing its due diligence and modeling a vast number of scenarios,” USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier told Newsday. “Everybody’s goal is to get fans. We’re a few months away, but we have to be looking at what a U.S. Open without spectators would look like and what challenge that presents.
“How do you present this tournament in a way that engages your fans? Will we end up having the U.S. Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center with the main draw starting on Aug. 31 with fans? That would be great. But we have to be modeling every conceivable scenario at this point.”