September 25, 2020

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Svitolina, Bertens out of US Open before they’re in

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Two of the WTA’s top 10 announced Friday that they will not play this year’s US Open because of COVID-19 related concerns.

So No. 5 Elina Svitolina and No. 7 Kiki Bertens are both out, joining No. 1 Ashleigh Barty on the sidelines as Grand Slam tennis is set to resume for the first time since the Australian Open in January.

There’s a bit of a caveat, though, on those two.

Bertens’s statement on Instagram indicated she was concerned both for the virus, and the fact that the Dutch prime minister indicated Thursday that anyone who travels to the U.S. should quarantine for 14 days upon their return home.

Bertens said this would disturb preparation for her “beloved clay-court tournaments in Rome and Paris”.

Svitolina’s better half never in

As for Svitolina, her statement said only she was reluctant to put herself and her team at “high risk”.

But these two players were always doubtful. So that’s the caveat.

Svitolina’s better half, Gaël Monfils, is not entered on the men’s side (not that she’s not well capable of going in a different direction, but still).

And neither Svitolina nor Bertens were playing the leadup “Cincinnati” tournament, also to be held in the US Open bubble.

Neither had proactively entered the US Open. But with automatic entry for the top 200 players, they appeared on the entry list after the deadline after being automatically added.

The other top-10 player in a similar situation is reigning champion Bianca Andreescu. She is not playing Cincinnati (she hasn’t played since last October) and hadn’t entered the US Open proactively. But her name does appear on the entry list.

In the case of Simona Halep, the fourth top-10 player who was a question mark heading into Monday’s deadline, she did appear at the 11th hour. And she has indicated to the USTA to keep her on the list, for now. Which doesn’t mean she will make it to New York.

Simona Halep is due to return to play in Prague next week. Will she travel to the U.S. just to play the US Open – then go right back to Europe? The door is still open, but the hurdles are legit.

European quarantine concerns

There are a couple of issues involved in making the decision that go beyond concern over travelling to the U.S. – even though not all U.S. states are created equal.

The first is that if a member of a player’s team tests positive, their expenses (including hotel) while they are in quarantine are not covered by the tournament, but by the player himself or herself.

The other is the concern the players have been vocal about in terms of having to quarantine upon return to Europe for the proposed clay-court season. That also applies to the European players returning to their own country, as Bertens detailed.

The various stakeholders in tennis had concluded an arrangement with the Spanish authorities, allowing players to get to Spain after the US Open for the Mutua Madrid Open.

But the Madrid event was cancelled this week. No such arrangement has been finalized with the Italian authorities.

And that could be a deal-breaker for a lot of top players.

The Italian Open wants to expand its draw, in the wake of the Madrid cancellation. But if the Italian government can’t guarantee the players can enter the country from the U.S. without quarantining, all bets are off.

Potential boycott?

As a result, according to the well-sourced Spanish media outlet Marca, the top-20 players on the ATP Tour held a “secret” Zoom call over the weekend.

(The secret Zoom calls are becoming a feature of this pandemic, aren’t they? And not a good one).

Marca writes that world No. 1 and Player Council president Novak Djokovic was “going to demand” an answer to the question of post-US Open quarantine for players returning to Europe.

As well, the story said that those top-20 players are far from certain, as a group, that they will travel to New York if there is no guarantee they won’t run into problems on the back end. But another secret call (!!!) involving the Player Council Friday seems to have stemmed the ardent on that one.

That’s a significant issue the USTA is going to have to try to resolve in a hurry. They have work to do.

Other ATP concerns

On Thursday, the USTA held a Zoom call with ATP players – a call that had both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer (who have already announced they won’t play) logged on.

According to someone who was on the call, one big focus was the question of the effects of a positive test to a member of the player’s entourage. It seems the players are not happy with the decision that if a team member tests positive, the player himself will be pulled from the tournament.

As well – unlike in Florida where the NBA is currently in a bubble – the players were told that New York state law doesn’t allow for a second coronavirus test if the first one is positive – to make sure. In New York, the rules require self-isolation after one test, but that they’re not allowed to double-check with a second test in the case of a positive result (only for a negative result – as will be the case as all players will be re-tested 48 hours after the first test, even though they would be issued a credential).

So there’s no provision (or recourse) for players in the case of a false positive.

The other issue that had the players up in arms, we were told, was the notion that players who had already tested positive before the tournament would be considered “not contagious” and might not have to be tested again for the duration.

Some players were saying it was almost better to catch the virus now, and not have to worry. But when the medical officer described how it’s a dangerous virus even if you recover from it, the players countered with the perceived hypocrisy of the tournament’s medical personnel understanding that it’s a potentially dangerous virus – and yet, the USTA is still planning to to ahead with the tournament.

So it’s clear that there are still a lot of players who have major concerns about taking part. And yet, many of them want to play.

So in the 3 1/2 weeks before it gets under way, we’d expect a lot more behind-the-scenes drama and secret Zoom calls.