New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday he has approved the United States Tennis Association’s plan to hold the U.S. Open as scheduled from Aug. 31-Sep. 13 at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens.
The event will be held without fans in attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. Open will be preceded at the same venue by the Western Southern Open, a warm-up tournament that is being moved from Cincinnati so players do not have to travel to multiple locations within the country.
Cuomo also said there would be comprehensive health and safety protocols in place for players, some of which have already been criticized by a number of top players on both the men’s and women’s tours in recent weeks.
“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,” USTA chief executive Mike Dowse said in a statement. “We can now give fans around the world the chance to watch tennis’ top athletes compete for a U.S. Open title, and we can showcase tennis as the ideal social distancing sport.”
Despite the challenges of holding a Grand Slam event this year, the financial imperative for the USTA to host the tournament and fulfill a television contract with ESPN worth a reported $70 million annually is paramount. The USTA laid off around 20 percent of its staff earlier this month and would be facing a significant financial shortfall if it had to cancel the tournament altogether.
Both the ATP and WTA Tours have been on pause since early March when the event in Indian Wells, California was canceled. Several professional tennis players have taken part in exhibitions recently, including last weekend in Belgrade, Serbia, where world No. 1 Novak Djokovic hosted a round-robin event that included No. 3 Dominic Thiem and No. 7 Alexander Zverev. Another event in France, the Ultimate Tennis Showdown, featured No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas and No. 8 Matteo Berrettini.
The question, however, is how many of the top players on either the men’s or women’s side will agree to a plan that could include regular testing, a centralized hotel near the venue and restrictions on movement around New York and how many people the players could bring in their entourage.
Though the USTA has not formally rolled out its coronavirus safety plan, many of those ideas have been floated to players in recent weeks, as well as moving the Cincinnati tournament to New York as a warm-up on the same site so players would don’t have to travel within the U.S.
“The USTA will take extraordinary precautions to protect players and staff, including robust testing, additional cleaning, extra locker room space, and dedicated housing transportation,” Cuomo tweeted.