Monday, August 17, 2020

Just here for the racket tap

Yesterday, I saw a photo of a group of WTA players celebrating a recent event (I don't recall which event), and the caption made a point of declaring how safe the event was for the players. I'm sure it was, but--in the photo--the players were all standing very, very close to one another, and none of them was wearing a mask. They were standing outside, so that certainly made the situation safer, but it was still a bad look, and it also represented a potential problem.

I've enjoyed watching tennis again, especially the Charleston event and the Lexington tournament (and Prague, when I could watch). I also really like the Cincinnati tournament and am sad that we won't be in Mason this year. And I have to wonder--as players gather in New York to play both the Western & Southern Open and the U.S. Open--how safe is it? And how manageable is it?

There are so many contingencies--quarantine considerations, testing accuracy, safety rules, travel issues. The draws have already been affected, both by intention and by withdrawals. It overwhelms me just to think about it. And then there's the raw issue of player compliance, especially regarding the ATP, whose players have apparently had a difficult time comprehending social distancing, mask-wearing and the meaning of the word "pandemic."

Both the Western & Southern Open and the U.S, Open are well-run tournaments. If anyone can pull off back-to-back safe events, they can. But can any entity really be expected to maintain total control over multiple players and their support staffs over a three-week-long period?

Then there's the issue of the asterisk. Already, fans are arguing on social media about whether the 2020 U.S. Open champions will forever have asterisks after their names. I understand the argument that--if you show up and you win, you're the champion, period. But consider that, in the WTA, world number 1 Ash Barty has withdrawn, defending champion (and world number 6) Bianca Andreescu has withdrawn, and world number 2 Simona Halep has withdrawn. World number 5 Elina Svitolina, world number 7 Kiki Bertens, and world number 8 Belinda Bencic have also withdrawn. 

That leaves the 2020 U.S. Open draw with only 4 members of the top 10--Karolina Pliskova, Sofia Kenin, six-time champion Serena Williams, and 2018 champion Naomi Osaka.

Additionally, doubles world number 2 (and fan favorite in singles) Barbora Strycova has withdrawn from the tournament.

These withdrawals also apply to the Western & Southern Open, though that tournament has retained defending champion Madison Keys. However, the 2019 runner-up, Svetlana Kuznetsova, has also withdrawn.

I'm looking forward to watching both tournaments, but I can't consider them as "regular" events because they aren't. It's one thing to have no fans and no physical contact; it's quite another to have 60% of the top 10--including the world number 1 and the defending champion--missing from the draw.