The US Open has officially been given the green light to go ahead behind closed doors, but the decision has led to plenty of outrage in the tennis world.
Officials confirmed on Tuesday the US Open tennis championships will go ahead as scheduled in August but without spectators.
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After weeks of uncertainty surrounding the tournament - which is being staged in the epicentre of the US coronavirus crisis - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo formally gave the event the green light.
“The @usopen will be held in Queens, NY, without fans from August 31 to September 13,” Cuomo announced on Twitter.
BREAKING: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) has given the @usopen the OK to be held, without fans, in Queens as scheduled, from Aug. 31 through Sept. 13.— TENNIS (@Tennis) June 16, 2020
Specific details on the tournament structure are expected to come soon from the USTA. https://t.co/suFWEb1uYM
Organisers insist US Open will be safe
The New York leader said the US Tennis Association would take “extraordinary precautions” to protect players and staff during the event.
“It will be held without fans, but we can watch it on TV, and I'll take that,” Cuomo later said during a briefing.
Safety protocols in force at the tournament include testing, additional cleaning, extra locker room space, and dedicated housing and transportation.
The New York grand slam faces the very real prospect of player boycotts, however, with several leading players suggesting they would not be comfortable travelling there in the current climate and under the proposed restrictions.
The United States Tennis Association (USTA)'s plan to eliminate qualifying for lower-ranked players, scrap the mixed doubles competition altogether and compress the main doubles draw from 64 to 32 pairings, has come under particular fire.
Gabriela Dabrowski - a Canadian doubles specialist ranked No.7 in the world - took to social media to slam the move, insisting that it compromises the integrity and tradition of the grand slam.
“Not having a qualifying and a smaller doubles draw increase the lack of parity in tennis,” Dabrowski wrote.
“We don’t want to disproportionately move the needle even further, creating a bigger gap between those at the top and those who need the income and opportunity for growth.
“The beauty of a slam is the story of the qualifier who battled through three tough matches to earn their spot in the main draw and get the upset. This story will not exist this year at the US Open.
“The beauty of a slam is the mental fortitude and skill it takes to win six doubles matches against the best players in the world, this will not happen.
Integrity of the US Open under fire
“The beauty of a slam is having the opportunity to play mixed doubles, a unique aspect of tennis — where players can earn more money and take a crack at a slam title. This will not happen this year.
“For me, a slam isn’t a slam without qualifying, doubles, and mixed doubles. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth when so many players are against this event moving forward, and yet it is moving forward anyway.
“Something just doesn’t feel right here.
“I wish we could use this hiatus to explore new designs of how and where we play tennis, like some real out of the box thinking. But maybe we’re just not quite ready to do that.”
Dabrowski also questioned the US Open's ability to stage the grand slam in the safest conditions possible.
“It is impossible to control and enforce a bubble situation where players only move from the hotel to the venue and back,” she said.
“We don’t know who players will come into contact with and those that don’t obey put everyone else in the tournament at risk.”
How many top players won’t attend?
However several leading players have expressed reservations about the prospect of playing a tournament in New York, and it remains to be seen how many of the games elite will commit to playing the event.
World No.1 Novak Djokovic has been one of the most vocal critics, saying that safety measures and restrictions on the numbers of support staff allowed for each player were problematical.
Djokovic's misgivings have been shared by defending men's singles champion Rafael Nadal, who said this month he would not play in New York if the tournament was taking place now.
Australia's Nick Kyrgios meanwhile reacted with disgust about reports indicating the tournament was set to go ahead, labelling officials "selfish" for not cancelling it.
Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova expressed reservations but said she expected financial imperatives would persuade many players to travel, while World No.1 Ash Barty also said she had “concerns.”