Novak Djokovic, the No. 1-ranked player in tennis and president of the ATP Player Council, is less reluctant to play the US Open now that USTA officials have provided a clearer look at the safety precautions designed to lower the risk of players and others contracting the coronavirus.
The USTA on Wednesday rolled out its plans to host the tournament as scheduled on Aug. 31 after winning the approval of New York State officials. The Grand Slam will be played in conjunction with the Western & Southern Open in a 24-day “bubble” period at the National Tennis Center at Flushing Meadows in New York.
“I would love to go,” Djokovic said in an interview with the Tennis Channel. “It’s likely that there’s going to be a better scenario, and all those [safety] measures will loosen up a bit. So I’m going to wait a bit and see how it all turns out. Right now, I cannot tell you yes or no.”
His attitude is a far cry from the one animating his thoughts as the USTA began a push to make the US Open a centerpiece of sports as they slowly return from the pandemic lockdown. He called the measures that were being discussed “extreme” and said that caveats that would, among other things, prohibit him from bringing his entire support team were “non-sustainable.”
Others, like Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer (before he ended his 2020 season due to injury), had expressed resistance to the idea of playing without spectators. There will be no fans at the doubleheader.
“I was personally amongst a lot of players quite skeptical about the US Open and the U.S. hard-court tournaments a couple of weeks ago, considering the fact that the USA was going through hard times due to the coronavirus,” Djokovic said. But the decision to allow the tournament to take place, he added, was “great news. I love it.”
The broad-strokes picture painted by the USTA for media and tennis officials in a video news conference on Wednesday alleviated many of the concerns Djokovic and others had about draconian restrictions. Players will be allowed to stay in private (mostly rented) housing outside Manhattan, rather than be sequestered in hotels, if they so choose; they will be allowed to bring a significant number of guests, and their movements and activities will not be nearly as restricted as some feared.
Although all players will be tested for the coronavirus when they arrive in New York, barring unforeseen circumstances they will be tested just once a week thereafter.
Other ATP players who indicated that they might now want to play in New York include box-office names Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev and Nick Kyrgios, along with, among others, the top two WTA players, No. 1-ranked Ash Barty and Simona Halep. However, Servus Sport Aktuell reported Thursday that Thiem intends to restart his season at Western & Southern Open, and Halep walked back a statement that she was not planning to play the US Open. A representative clarified later, saying the decision “was not set in stone.”
A number of lower-ranked players, including Noah Rubin, John Millman and Dan Evans, have been vocal in criticizing Djokovic and other reluctant stars for forgetting that less successful players have been suffering economically and in other ways.
A week ago, Danielle Collins called out Djokovic in an Instagram message, writing: “This is a massive opportunity for players to start making money again, and here we have the top player in the world saying only being able to bring one person will be too difficult because he won’t be able to bring his entourage.”