No fans, depleted field, will US Open match wins count for less? Sumit Nagal, Rohan Bopanna weigh in
Instead of contemplating an asterisk next to the winners’ name at US Open 2020, it should instead have an exclamation point.
“There will be no spectators, a very small team, staying only in the hotel. You have to be honest and keep in mind that many top players will not attend the tournament,” Dominic Thiem told Austrian media outlet Der Standard ahead of US Open. “That means going far in this tournament it would be worth much less than normal compared to the Australian Open this year,” added the finalist in Melbourne.
The top players, Thiem refers to, include: defending champion Rafael Nadal, five-time winner Roger Federer, Gael Monfils, Fabio Fognini, 2016 champion Stan Wawrinka, Nick Kyrgios, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Lucas Pouille, Pierre-Hugues Herbert in the top-100.
The women’s side is more ravaged by withdrawals: World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, No. 5 Elina Svitolina, defending champion Bianca Andreescu, World No. 7 Kiki Bertens, last year’s semi-finalist Belinda Bencic, World No. 29 Qiang Wang, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Barbora Strycova, 2004 winner Svetlana Kuznetsova, Zheng Jie, Julia Georges and Palermo Ladies Open winner Fiona Ferro. To summarise, five of the top-10 and 12 of the top-50 women in the world won’t be playing the Grand Slam in New York. World No. 2 Simona Halep, who won the title in Prague on Sunday, is undecided and had earlier pulled out of playing in Palermo due to the quarantine restrictions.
— Wide World of Sports (@wwos) August 16, 2020
Beyond the tournament withdrawals, Flushing Meadows will be a bubble with no fans allowed and players are required to keep their entourages small. The Player Q&A Update by the USTA says if a player tests COVID-19 positive, they will be withdrawn from the tournament. Player sharing a room with person who tests positive would be withdrawn too. There is, however, no clarity on how many positive tests it would take for the Grand Slam to be cancelled altogether.
It’s not your regular Grand Slam by any stretch of imagination. Players may be forced to withdraw if they test positive, leading to their opponents going forward without hitting a ball. The euphoria and the noise will be missing. To think a year on from Daniil Medvedev’s cheeky back-and-forth with the New Yorkers, there will be no fans, is a shame.
So, at US Open 2020, will a win feel any lesser?
“It's still a Slam, it’s still considered the US Open which is giving away 2000 (ranking) points and considering the title as good as any other title. I understand Rafa and few other players have opted to stay out but that is their personal choice and you have to respect that. In my opinion, the situation is a bit weird, it's not a fun time right now for anyone but you got to do what you got to do,” said Sumit Nagal who was initially on the alternates list before eventually making the main draw.
Nagal, who played Roger Federer last year in his maiden Slam appearance, is India’s solitary entry in the singles department. Prajnesh Gunneswaran, on the alternates list, can make the draw if there are further withdrawals between now and 31 August.
India’s only entry in the doubles department is Rohan Bopanna who will partner Denis Shapovalov at the tune-up Cincinnati event, also being played in New York, the US Open and later in Rome. “If I was playing singles, maybe,” said Bopanna when asked if he agreed with Thiem’s opinion. “But in doubles all the top teams are playing. There’s nobody who has pulled out. Everyone from rank 1 to rank 50 has entered. Yes the draw is smaller but all the top teams are playing.
The question by many is: should the 2020 US Open come with an asterisk? Should history books reflect that the 2020 edition of US Open had multiple external circumstances at play? And harshly, should it not count towards the overall Grand Slam tally (this aimed more at Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams than anyone else)?
— Western & Southern Open (@CincyTennis) August 15, 2020
It’s also worth highlighting that those who are playing the US Open are doing so by taking a massive risk. The ones who are travelling to New York are doing so with the knowledge that the cases in the US have been on the rise recently even if the situation in New York is comparatively better (average 652 new cases a day in the last week, as per New York Times). To win the US Open now, you don’t just need mental and physical capabilities on the court, but off of it too. The persistence and focus required now would be far greater than in the past. One could argue that instead of contemplating an asterisk next to the winners’ name, it should instead have an exclamation point.
If we are to go down the route of adding asterisks and questioning legitimacy of Grand Slams, then many events in the past would come under disrepute. Rod Laver’s 1969 Australian Open win didn’t attract many fans and the highest reported attendance for the tournament was 4,500. In fact, from 1976 to 1982, many players would skip the Australian Open due to length of the trip and it being close to Christmas and New Year's.
At the 1977 French Open, Guillermo Vilas triumphed in what was an exemplary year for the Argentine and when he registered a then record 53-match winning streak on clay (broken by Nadal in 2006). But the top players in Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, Vitas Gerulaitis and Manuel Orantes gave it a miss. The next year, when Grand Slams were opened to professionals, French Open was ravaged with absences due to riots in Paris. The first round witnessed a jaw-dropping 30 walkovers on the men’s side with five of the 16 seeded players not making it.
🗣 ROLL CALL
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic & last year's finalist Daniil Medvedev lead our 2020 US Open player field. pic.twitter.com/Xw8ys9Rlxi
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) August 4, 2020
If that doesn’t cut it then maybe 1973 Wimbledon should. 82 men’s players boycotted the historic Championships in support of French Open singles runner-up Nikki Pilic after he was barred from playing because he chose not to compete for Yugoslavia in the Davis Cup.
Moving to this century, if easier draws is the factor, should Kevin Anderson’s runner up place at the 2017 US Open be questioned? Because Andy Murray, who was in his half of the draw, withdrew due to injury and the highest ranked player that the South African played was Pablo Carreno Busta in the semis. And the guy he played in the final - Nadal. The highest ranked player he faced was Juan Martin Del Potro, at World No. 28.
Also, what about Djokovic winning the 2016 French Open because Nadal withdrew mid-way into the tournament? Or, Federer at the 2018 Australian Open who faced his first and only top-10 player in the final (Marin Cilic).
What one can do is prepare as well as possible - given the circumstances. Bopanna, who moved from Coorg to Bangalore since relaxations from the lockdown, has had no match practice since March. “I’m looking at it as start of a new year. At the end of the year you have a few weeks off and then you come on and play your first tournament. Ofcourse here we’ve had a much longer break but you go into the tournament, everyone’s going to be a bit rusty, everyone would have probably practiced but not played many matches. You just try and do well.”
“You’re going straight into a Masters series event.. I don’t think it’s ever been done before. We always played an 250 or 500 event before going into a bigger tournament like this. But given the calendar, hats off to (organisers for) even pull off a few tournaments. As tennis players you try and adjust and try and do your best. And that’s what each and every player out there will be doing,” he said before leaving for the US.
Nagal, India’s top-ranked singles player, is in Europe and has played couple of local tournaments. This week, he’s scheduled to play in the ATP Challenger in Prague. “I’m still playing the tournament I’m supposed to play and then play the US Open. There’s no change in my schedule,” he said of his preparations.
Nadal has not played since losing to Novak Djokovic in the French Open semi-finals due to a foot injury and now sits sixth in the rankings.
It will be Prajnesh (ranked 165) who will open the tie for India with a match against Otto Virtanen (ranked 419). It is a splendid opportunity for India to draw first blood as Prajnesh is a superior player.
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