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PIX: How the pandemic has changed tennis

September 14, 2020 09:05 IST

Serena Williams

IMAGE: Serena Williams sports huge glasses and face mask as she has her ankle retaped. Photograph: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The US Open finished on Sunday having largely pulled off what was once seen as impossible: hosting an international sports mega-event amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

With 6,500 coronavirus tests and more than 25,000 temperature checks administered, the tournament offered a glimpse into how tennis could adapt in the global, deadly pandemic era.

Months after its famed Flushing Meadows venue hosted a field hospital amid a surge of COVID-19 cases, the 2020 US Open kicked off with no fans in attendance and numerous rules in place designed to mitigate health risks.


Alexander Zverev

IMAGE: Alexander Zverev sports a mask as he prepares to play in his final match against and Dominic Thiem. Photograph: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Masks were required and high-fives banned, with signs reminding those in attendance to maintain proper social distancing. Inside the cafeteria, staff members slid cups of coffee to patrons from behind a clear, plastic shield, and patrons were asked to stand apart from one another.

The finals drama unfolded in a strangely quiet arena as COVID-19 health and safety protocols prevented fans from entering the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

US Open

IMAGE: Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem attend the trophy ceremony. Photograph: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

But the lack of buzz around the stands did not stop the players from playing their hearts out.

The presentation ceremony showed the precautions everyone has had to take during the COVID-19 era, with the two finalists having to pick up their respective prizes themselves from a table placed on court, while everyone stood socially distant for the obligatory photocall.

US Open

IMAGE: Empty stands at the US Open. Photograph: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, no spectators are allowed at the US Open. The only way to enjoy the events this year will be on television

Alexander Zverev

IMAGE: Alexander Zverev of Germany celebrates after with his brother Mischa Zverev on a Jumbotron after winning his first round match. Photograph: Al Bello/Getty Images

Arthur Ashe Stadium was unrecognisable with the empty seats and nine large LED screens strategically positioned to display scores and announcements. The USTA also allowed specially selected fans to watch the action from afar and pose questions to a winning player after a match.

"These four weeks have been able to demonstrate to the world how our sport can return to play safely," said Tournament Director Stacey Allaster. "New York rallied. The US Open rallied."
However, there were moments of controversy.

US Open

IMAGE: A player wears a face covering as she walks the grounds. Photograph: Al Bello/Getty Images

France's Benoit Paire was pulled from the tournament the weekend before it began after testing positive for COVID-19, with a handful of other players forced into "enhanced protocol" - otherwise referred to as the "bubble within the bubble" - after having contact with him.

Top doubles player Kristina Mladenovic, who had bristled at the enhanced protocol,was later pulled from the tournament after neighboring Nassau County, New York, issued a quarantine order.

But since the start of play none of the 365 competitors at the US Open tested positive for the virus, which has ravaged the United States, claiming more than 190,000 lives.
There were four positive tests among members of the support staff on site as of Friday.

"On the moments where we perhaps thought it wasn't going to happen, the adversity was there, I remember speaking to Billie (Jean King). She said, 'Stace, remember who you serve,'" said Allaster. "We're serving our sport. It's been an unbelievable privilege."

US Open

IMAGE: Richard Gasquet grabs his own towel as players are not allowed to take towels from ball people due to COVID-19 safety measures. Photograph: Al Bello/Getty Images

The top contenders will be back in Grand Slam competition later this month at Roland Garros, which was postponed due to the outbreak. Unlike the US Open, the tournament plans to allow a limited number of spectators, a decision Allaster said she trusts.

Her advice to French Open officials? "Stay the course."

"Stay focused that this is an invisible enemy," she said. "From the moment you open the doors for staff, for partners, for the athletes and their support team members, be guided by medical science and the doctors."