US Open update : Organizers planning central housing, charter flights for players

Charter flights to ferry US Open tennis players and limited entourages from Europe, South America and the Middle East to New York. Negative COVID-19 tests before travelling. Centralised housing. Daily temperature checks. No spectators. Fewer on-court officials. No locker-room access on practice days.

All are among the scenarios being considered for the 2020 US Open—if it is held at all amid the coronavirus pandemic—and described to The Associated Press by a high-ranking official at the Grand Slam tournament.

“All of this is still fluid,” Stacey Allaster, the US Tennis Association’s chief executive for professional tennis, said in a telephone interview Saturday. “We have made no decisions at all.” 

With that caveat, Allaster added that if the USTA board does decide to go forward with the Open, she expects it to be held at its usual site and in its usual spot on the calendar. The main draw is scheduled to start August 31.

“We continue to be, I would say, 150% focused on staging a safe environment for conducting a US Open at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York on our dates. It’s all I wake up —our team wakes up—thinking about,” Allaster said.

“The idea of an alternative venue, an alternative date … we’ve got a responsibility to explore it, but it doesn’t have a lot of momentum.” 

An announcement should come from “mid-June to end of June,” Allaster said.

All sanctioned competition has been suspended by the ATP, WTA and International Tennis Federation since March and is on hold until late July. The French Open was postponed from May to September; Wimbledon was canceled for the first time since 1945.

There is no established COVID-19 protocol for tennis, a global sport with several governing bodies. “Everybody would agree to the fundamental principles, I’m sure: protecting the health of participants, following the local laws and minimising the risk of the transmission of the virus,” said Stuart Miller, who is overseeing the ITF’s return-to-tennis policy.

“But then you have to get down into the specific details.” One such detail: The USTA wants to add locker rooms—including at indoor courts that housed hundreds of temporary hospital beds at the height of New York’s coronavirus outbreak—and improve air filtration in existing spaces. Also being considered: no locker-room access until just before a match. So if anyone goes to Flushing Meadows just to train, Allaster said, “You come, you practice, and return to the hotel.” The USTA presented its operational plan to a medical advisory group Friday; now that will be discussed with city, state and federal government officials.

“The fundamental goal here is to mitigate risk,” Allaster said.

Lew Sherr, the USTA’s chief revenue officer, said it is “less and less likely” spectators would be at the US Open this year.