There’s been no Grand Slam tennis since January’s Australian Open because of the pandemic. Yet, here we are seven months later, Wimbledon was cancelled and now within a six week period the US Open and Roland Garros will be played. Grand Slam tennis is back, at least as of today.
Play was shut down yesterday due to social injustice protests from athletes in various leagues and sports, driven by the NBA, so in these unprecedented times anything is possible.
Regardless, the USTA have created a bubble around the tournament in New York. Players will be tested regularly for Covid, they are required to stay on Long Island, near the tournament site in mandated hotels or they can stay in a private home subject to safety protocols. There will be no visits to Manhattan.
There will be no fans, any player that tests positive will be disqualified and put into isolation. It’s safe to say this will be the strangest Slam played in a long time, if ever.
In the women’s draw there are plenty of high profile withdrawals due to concerns over the virus. There will be no Barty, Halep, Svitolina, Bertens and Bencic and Andreescu is out with injury. That’s six of the top eight in the world. It creates a big hole in the event but Serena, Osaka, Venus, Kvitova and Muguruza still add star power.
In total, 20 of the top 100 have withdrawn. The ATP/WTA have relocated the Cincinnati tournament into the US Open bubble on Long Island so at least the players will get a high quality lead in event after months of competitive inactivity.
Remember, Serena is still vying to tie Margaret Court’s record of 24 Slams. Despite losing her last four slam finals this could be her best chance with so many no shows.
In the interruption of this tennis season picking a Champion is anyone’s guess, especially when you throw in other threats to win, including Australian Open Champion Sofia Kenin and sixteen year old Coco Gauff. Also look for the unretired Kim Clijsters who’s been given a wildcard.
This could be as much about how a player deals with what’s happening off the court as they are with what’s happening on it. The US Open draw was released last night, if the seeds hold QF matchups would be Pliskova (1) vs Martic (8), Osaka (4) vs Kvitova (6), Keys (7) vs Serena (3) and Kenin (2) vs Sabalenka (5).
I can guarantee not all the seeds will make it this far, way too many variables. With no confidence whatsoever I’m picking Petra Kvitova, the lefty has won Slams before and if she gets through the Osaka QF she can win it all.
Although I wouldn’t be surprised if none of these top 8 seeds won it and we had a bolter, maybe even unseeded. Azarenka, Venus or Gauff??
Moving over to the men’s, there is no Federer due to knee surgery; Nadal withdrew weeks ago citing concerns over Covid. This leaves Novak who already contracted the virus back in June after his ill-fated Adria tour exhibitions through Serbia and Croatia.
Novak has made it clear the main reason he is in New York is to chase Federer’s 20 Slams. Wawrinka, Kyrgios and Monfils are other high profile players out due to covid concerns; only 9 of the top 100 will not play. Andy Murray is in after multiple hip surgeries the last few years, keep an eye on him.
As with the women there are no form players coming into this. The obvious choice as Champion would be Novak, but does he have lingering affects of the virus, how will his body react if he plays back-to-back five setters.
It only adds to the unknown. After the draw the QF matchups would be Novak (1) vs Goffin (7), Tsitsipas (4) vs Zverev (5), Berrettini (6) vs Medvedev (3), Bautista Agut (8) vs Theim (2).
Again, with no confidence whatsoever I’m picking Tsitsipas. He’s the player most likely to end Novak’s run, but I don’t like picking a player that hasn’t won a Slam before, but we’re in uncharted territory here.
The US Open will be similar to a lot of pro sport in 2020, on the field it’s the same but away from it clearly it’s not. Some fans will want to put an asterisk next to the Champions name, but in a few years will anyone care.
The trophy will still be in the winner’s cabinet, they’ve earned it.