Let’s try and forget the cliches for a second. It’s clear that 2020 has been one of the most challenging years in recent memory. And for professional tennis, it’s been possibly the most challenging year in the open era.
After the cancellation of the BNP Paribas Open in early March, there were no professional tournaments for over five months. And while many other sports made plans to return, tennis lagged behind. It seemed that once again there would be too much political infighting amongst the major organizations that had conflicting interests and financial goals. The French Open? Rescheduled. Wimbledon? Cancelled. All other smaller tournaments were gone by the wayside.
Unlike team sports where players are paid salaries, tennis players are independent contractors whose income is based on prize money at each event. Top players were going to be just fine, but hundreds of thousands of competitors went unemployed with no future in sight.
As the United States Tennis Association (USTA) approached plans to host the 2020 U.S. Open, they faced a daunting task with pressures from all sides. First and foremost, the tournament is hosted in New York City, the original epicenter of the virus outbreak in the United States. Local and state governments in New York had already put major restrictions in place that would in almost any circumstance not allow for the tournament to take place. Second, tennis is one of the most international sports in the world, with players needing to travel from all over. From travel bans to quarantine requirements, it was unclear if the players could even get to New York. There were questions of social distancing, capacity limits, as well as housing and transportation concerns.
Against all of those odds, the USTA made it happen. They created one of the most effective “bubbles” in any sport, with only one positive test out of thou-sands conducted throughout the tournament. Line judges were replaced with hawk eye live, which proved to be very popular with the players. And even with no fans in attendance, the matches played had the same intensity and quality as usual.
The U.S. Open proved to be absolutely crucial for the future of the 2020 calendar, with many events trying to accomplish even half of what the USTA was able to put on. Jobs were returned to players, officials and many others in the industry. But perhaps most importantly, tennis returned to the national eye.