Should the 2020 US Open still take place? – Match Points #8

In Episode 8 of Match Points, Josh Cohen guides Marion Bartoli, Noah Rubin and Ben Rothenberg through a discussion on the 2020 US Open. Should it still happen despite coronavirus problems in the United States?

July 23, 2020
The figures

With the US Open now just one month away, our Match Points once against checks in on the prospect of hosting a Grand Slam tennis tournament in a hot spot of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In Episode 8, host Josh Cohen asks former WTA world No. 7 Marion Bartoli, ATP world No. 225 Noah Rubin (founder of Behind the Racquet) and American journalist Ben Rothenberg if the US Open should be held.

That may be a short, precise question, but it certainly is not an easy one.

“It’s such a tough question to answer right now,” Rubin said. “Looking at the (coronavirus) numbers going in the wrong direction, people not being able to come over (to the United States), this may not be the time. Then again, if the US Open does not take place they don’t have money and then there’s no Challengers and there’s no ATP events. It’s nearly an impossible question to answer. It comes to the whole idea of: is tennis more important than human life? Where does the risk come in?”

Rothenberg knows his answer to Rubin’s question. Lamenting the fact that the coronavirus is more out of control in the United States than it is anywhere else in the world, Rothenberg says it’s too risky.

“It’s incredibly out of touch for tennis—and sports in general, but especially tennis—to be going on when the U.S. does not have a handle on this pandemic at all,” he argued. “It doesn’t seem like it’s in touch to be playing a tennis tournament with players from all around the globe…. I admire the optimism of the USTA, but I think at a certain point you do have to face reality. I’m not sure they have to quit right now, but it’s very, very tough and we have to keep acknowledging that.”

Bartoli thinks the “bubble” in New York can be safe, but she is worried about travel to and from the United States.

“I’m still an optimistic person regarding tennis. For the USTA to still try everything possible to organize a safe bubble, to make it happen, I don’t want to destroy that right now.… They are thinking they can organise a safe bubble inside New York, but to get those people to fly in, it’s a real difficulty. I was talking to my father about it and he said to me, ‘If we would have been in this situation when you were still playing on the tour, I would have told you do not go because it’s way too risky.’”

Grandstand US Open

Roland-Garros: Can it be held with fans?

With the coronavirus somewhat stable in France, there is plenty of optimism that Roland-Garros will proceed as scheduled in late September and early October. The question right now is not really if the event will happen, but under what kind of circumstances. Tournament organisers are planning to allow fans to attend in a capacity up to 60 percent. Is that a safe and realistic goal?

Bartoli is hopeful.

“We’re almost back to normal (in France),” she said of the coronavirus. “The situation regarding coronavirus is really under control. We are close to [negating] the virus. Is it gonna stay that way? Are we going to have a second wave? It’s impossible to predict.”

Rothenberg argues that the fact France doing a good job of containing the virus is the very reason why fans should not be allowed to attend. Why mess with success?

“The walkways, the pathways, the bathrooms, everything will be packed with people even at 60 percent capacity,” Rothenberg commented. “Yes, France is doing very well. The way to stop doing well is to hold a massive tennis tournament that can spread everything again. We saw this in Serbia. Serbia was doing incredibly well statistically on coronavirus before the Adria Tour.”

Rubin also thinks that too many people in the same space is a recipe for disaster.

He asked, “How is that physically possible that you’re getting all these people under one roof? This is pushing it. Sixty percent…. You’re having a large number of people in the same area. Regardless of touching players or not, that’s just having a lot of people in one area. I don’t think it’s the right play and it’s gonna prove to be a huge problem.”

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