‘Watch it on TV’: Gov. Cuomo OKs no-fan US Open tennis in NY

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave the go-ahead Tuesday for the U.S. Open tennis tournament to be held in
his state starting in late August — but without spectators — as part of the reopening from shutdowns
caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
"You can watch it on TV, and I’ll take that," Cuomo said at his daily briefing in Albany.
Now that the U.S. Tennis Association’s proposal to hold its marquee event has been accepted — including a
"bubble" setup with designated hotels, limited player entourages and a facility closed to the
hundreds of thousands of people who usually attend the U.S. Open — the key question becomes: Who
actually will end up competing on the blue hard courts in Flushing Meadows from Aug. 31 to Sept. 13?
Some of the sport’s top names, including defending U.S. Open men’s champion Rafael Nadal along with No.
1-ranked players Novak Djokovic and Ash Barty, have expressed reservations about heading somewhere that
was a hot spot for the COVID-19 outbreak. An indoor tennis facility at the Billie Jean King National
Tennis Center temporarily housed hundreds of hospital beds at the height of New York’s coronavirus
crisis.
Others expressed an eagerness to return to action: Both the ATP and WTA tours have been suspended since
early March because of the virus. The U.S. Open normally is the fourth and final Grand Slam tournament
of each season but would be the second major of 2020, following the Australian Open, which concluded in
early February.
The start of the clay-court French Open was postponed from May and currently is scheduled to begin a week
after the U.S. Open ends. Wimbledon was canceled altogether for the first time since World War II in
1945.
"Well done @usta for being so forward thinking in getting this done. A great achievement. Players
and fans alike are thrilled with this development," tweeted John Isner, the top U.S. man in the
rankings at No. 21. "Time to get back on the courts!"
Another American, No. 195 Mitchell Krueger, quoted Isner’s comment and wrote: "I can find you about
140+ players that are most certainly not ‘thrilled’ with this development."
That’s a reference to the USTA’s decision to eliminate qualifying rounds that normally give lower-ranked
singles players a chance to earn a spot — and extra money — in the U.S. Open field. The USTA is getting
rid of qualifying and instead moving the Cincinnati hard-court tournament that it owns to New York ahead
of the start of the U.S. Open.
Another reduction for 2020: The men’s and women’s doubles draws for the U.S. Open each will have 32 teams
instead of 64. Overall player compensation for the U.S. Open and Cincinnati tournament, which includes
prize money and hotel costs and $6.6 million to compensate players who would have been in qualifying in
Flushing Meadows, will be $60 million; that’s about $7 million less than in 2019.
The tours are expected to reveal the restructured 2020 tennis calendar within the week. More than 40
tournaments at the sport’s highest levels have been scrapped so far and there likely will not be any
sanctioned play until early August, although various exhibition matches with no rankings points at stake
have been taking place around the world in recent weeks.
"We recognize the tremendous responsibility of hosting one of the first global sporting events in
these challenging times," USTA CEO Mike Dowse said in a statement released shortly after Cuomo’s
announcement, "and we will do so in the safest manner possible, mitigating all potential
risks."
With international TV contracts — including an annual average of $70 million from ESPN alone — helping
offset the loss of money from ticket sales and other onsite revenue, and facing a recession that already
led to the elimination of more than 100 jobs at the USTA, the association’s board decided to go forward
with the U.S. Open.
"We can showcase tennis as the ideal social distancing sport," Dowse said.
Cuomo opened Tuesday’s news conference by touting "good news on the numbers, good news on the
facts" in New York, which he said has its lowest number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations
since the outbreak began.
Last week, Djokovic said the restrictions that would be in place for the U.S. Open because of the virus
would be "extreme."
"Most of the players I have talked to were quite negative on whether they would go there,"
Djokovic said.
He hosted exhibition matches with packed stands last week in his home country of Serbia, where the
government lifted most virus restrictions last month.
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Associated Press Writer Marina Villeneuve in Albany, New York, contributed to this report.
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