The United States Open opens Monday, with stars Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka slated to play their opening matches at night.
How to watch: From noon to 6 p.m., Eastern time, on ESPN, and from 6 to 11 p.m. on ESPN2; streaming on ESPN+ and ESPN3.
The United States Open singles competitions start Monday with neither the women’s nor the men’s reigning singles champion participating. Still, there are plenty of incredible competitors starting their quests for a Grand Slam title, including Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic.
After French player Benoit Paire tested positive for the coronavirus and was withdrawn from the United States Open, several other players in the field, including French doubles specialist Edouard Roger-Vasselin, have been found by tournament organizers to have had close contact with Paire.
But instead of being forced to withdraw, those players have been required to sign a revised agreement in order to remain in the U.S. Open. The agreement, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, requires players to submit to daily coronavirus testing. It also strictly limits their movements and behavior inside the controlled environment that has been established at the tournament site and player hotel — with even greater restrictions than those already imposed on all players.
Players who sign the new document are required to stay in their rooms at the hotel unless traveling to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and no longer have access to common areas. No visitors are permitted in their rooms. On site at the tennis center, access to locker rooms and dining areas is now prohibited and the group of players who sign the agreement now will be required to use separate fitness, training and warm-up areas and only by appointment.
“To sum up, we are in the bubble within the bubble,” Roger-Vasselin said in an interview with L’Equipe, the French newspaper, that was published on Monday.
Though the names of the players in close contact with Paire in recent days have not been released publicly, the majority are French, according to a tennis official familiar with the list, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information had not been released.
The players who sign the revised protocol are also required to “strictly adhere” to the requirement to wear masks at all times “both indoors and outdoors, which also includes isolation areas.”
The decision to offer players the option to sign the revised agreement raises the question of why Guido Pella and Hugo Dellien were not offered the same option when their fitness trainer, Juan Manuel Galvan, tested positive for the coronavirus and was isolated before the start of the Western & Southern Open, a tournament that preceded the U.S. Open at the National Tennis Center.
Pella, an Argentine, was withdrawn from the main draw; Dellien, a Bolivian, from the qualifying tournament. Both were required to quarantine for 14 days at the player hotel. Neither tested positive for the virus before or during that period. They were gradually allowed more freedom of movement, including the ability to practice on court. Both are expected to play in the U.S. Open with Pella, the 29th seed, to face American J.J. Wolf in the first round, and Dellien to face Marton Fucsovics of Hungary. Both of those matches are scheduled for Tuesday.
Stacey Allaster, the U.S. Open tournament director, confirmed on Monday in an interview with Tennis Channel that a group of players in contact with Paire would be allowed to continue in the tournament.
“Contact tracing has been executed, decisions have been made and we’re continuing on to have those individuals in the competition based on the medical science and all of those facts,” Allaster said. “They will be in the competition starting this morning.”
Even as major tennis returns for the first time since the Australian Open ended in early February, the U.S. Open looks and sounds very different because of the pandemic.
Most visibly — and audibly — there are no fans. And U.S. Open fans are known for being rowdy, especially at night.
There are also no line judges on most courts; calls are made with Hawk-Eye Live technology using cameras and recorded voices. There are fewer ball people on the courts as well, and they won’t handle the players’ towels, as they normally would. All on-court interviews are conducted with long boom microphones; news conferences are happening over Zoom with very few journalists allowed to actually enter the grounds at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
Most players at one hotel in Long Island, though some are at another hotel and a handful of players are staying in private homes.
Because of the number of matches cycling through courts, the times for individual matchups are at best a guess and certain to fluctuate based on the completion time of earlier play. All times are Eastern.
Kevin Anderson, a finalist at the U.S. Open in 2017, missed last year’s competition as part of a lengthy struggle with injuries. Anderson was ranked fifth in the world at the peak of his career in 2018, but is now ranked outside the top 100. Last week, at the Western & Southern Open, Anderson beat Kyle Edmund, the world No. 44, in a tight three-set match before losing to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the second round. Even though Anderson has slipped from his peak, his powerful serves and groundstrokes can still be used as a bludgeon to allow him to press toward the net and control points.
Alexander Zverev, the fifth seed, has beaten Anderson all five times they have played, including three times on hardcourts in the United States in the summer. The one major differentiator coming into this match could be serve consistency, which Zverev has struggled with over the last year. Zverev lost to Andy Murray last week, and double-faulted three times while serving for the match in the third set.
Danielle Collins, unseeded at this year’s U.S. Open, started 2019 with a breakout. She reached the semifinals at the Australian Open, but had a hard time following that success, reaching only the second round at the 2019 U.S. Open. At the beginning of 2020, she rebounded, beating Elina Svitolina, Sofia Kenin and Belinda Bencic during the Australian swing of the WTA season. Collins’s aggressive style is suited to the faster hardcourts, and her powerful baseline game transitions well to the net.
Her opponent, Anett Kontaveit, is built in a similar vein. Kontaveit became the first Estonian, male or female, to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal at this year’s Australian Open. Kontaveit, seeded No. 14, will be looking to replicate that success on a similar hardcourt surface in Flushing Meadows. Kontaveit’s main weapon, an incredibly varied serve, is particularly effective in forcing weak returns, which could make it difficult for Collins to establish her groundstrokes when returning.
In his short career, Shapovalov, the No. 12 seed, has not been knocked out of the U.S. Open before the third round. Shapovalov, 21, possesses one of the best one-handed backhands in the game, with incredible shotmaking ability and power.
Korda, who received a wild card into the U.S. Open, is a promising young American player. He is the son of the Czech players Petr Korda, who won the Australian Open in 1998, and Regina Rajchrtova, who competed in the 1988 Olympics. In 2018, Sebastian Korda won the junior singles title at the Australian Open, but this U.S. Open will be his first appearance in the main draw of a Grand Slam event. The tall, thin player is deceptively quick, and will need to be on the top of his game if he is to challenge his opponent.
Gauff, just 16, is remarkably mature both on and off the court. After a breakout year in 2019, she has shown no signs of slowing her seemingly inevitable ascent into the top echelons of the tennis world. At the Australian Open, she defeated the defending champion, Naomi Osaka, in the third round before losing to the eventual champion, Sofia Kenin, in the fourth. In this draw, she faces yet another seeded player in the first round.
Sevastova, seeded No. 31, reached the semifinals at the U.S. Open in 2018. Her game is comparable to Gauff’s. Sevastova does not have one shot with which to overpower her opponents; she seeks weaknesses in them and craftily constructs points to exploit those weaknesses.
Their match should be a master class in tactical thinking, angled shots and stalwart footwork — unless one player decides her way to win is to lean away from her own strengths to disrupt her opponent. Either player is capable of making that decision and grinding away, if need be.
Starting at 11 a.m. Eastern on ESPN+, I will split-screen Angelique Kerber’s match at Louis Armstrong Stadium with Diego Schwartzman’s on Court 5. While both are heavy favorites, they are pleasant to watch, and should provide an easy start to the day.
Next, viewers on ESPN will probably be directed to the Anderson-Zverev match, but I will watch Shapovalov face Korda instead. Anderson and Zverev tend to play long matches, so I’ll go back to it between checking other courts.
At 3 p.m., I will, like most American viewers, be clamoring to watch Gauff. Two years ago, late in the second week at the U.S. Open, I asked a colleague what to do while waiting for the evening session to start. She directed me to a field court on which some young Americans were playing junior doubles. Gauff’s game stood out, and I haven’t missed an opportunity to watch her play since.
Hopefully, by the end of Gauff’s match, Kontaveit and Collins will just be starting, although I will attempt to give some of my attention to Dayana Yastremska on Court 8. A 20-year-old Ukrainian, she had a breakthrough year in 2019. Now that she is working with the renowned coach Sascha Bajin, it is possible that her offense-focused style will start coalescing and become consistent enough to gain all the benefits without creating quite so many unforced errors.
At the end of the night, as ESPN gives way to ESPN2, both 2018 champions, Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka, will return to Arthur Ashe Stadium. While watching them, I’ll try to keep an eye on the last match on Court 17, between Reilly Opelka and David Goffin. The two players have extremely different styles. Opelka is the quintessential big man, with a powerful serve designed to be unbreakable. Goffin is much more intricate in his play, with point construction his major strength. It promises to be more interesting than the lopsided routs we’ve come to expect from first-round matches featuring players at the top of the draw.
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