International tennis will resume in August and Serena Williams has confirmed her participation at the US Open 2020 – a major boost for the United States Tennis Association (USTA).
With Roger Federer missing the event due to a second round of knee surgery and Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic non-committal, organisers would have been desperate for the 23-time Grand Slam champion – who finished as runner-up in 2019 – to commit, which she has done.
The ATP and WTA Tours will resume at different times in August, while the French Open has been pushed back a week as part of a new-look calendar that will see combined events in New York, Madrid, Rome and Paris go ahead.
Attracting the world’s biggest stars to these events looked set to be a challenge for tournament organisers, but Williams’ confirmed attendance at the US Open – which starts on August 31 – is a promising sign that tennis’ elite will make the trip.
‘I really cannot wait to return to New York and play the US Open 2020,’ said Williams during a press conference on Wednesday.
‘I feel the USTA is going to do a really good job of ensuring everything is amazing and everything is perfect and everyone is safe.
It’s going to be exciting. ‘It’s going to be over six months since a lot of us have played professional tennis so it is… I will certainly miss the fans, don’t get me wrong.
Just being out there and that New York crowd – I’ll really miss that, getting me through those tough matches. But this is crazy, I’m excited.’
Stacey Allaster, the first female tournament director in the US Open’s history, confirmed she had spoken with Williams over the past few weeks and confirmed she was training.
Williams – who can match Margaret Court’s all-time Grand Slam record by lifting the title at Flushing Meadows – also appears to have a slight advantage over her opponents as her home has been fitted with the exact surface that will be used at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center for both the Western & Southern Open, as well as the US Open.
‘I can confirm that through Serena’s agent, I had a zoom call with her about three or four weeks ago,’ Allaster said. ‘She said on the video, “Wow, Stacey, this is crazy” she shook her head and said, “There’s so much for me to comprehend”.
‘The surface provided for the 2020 US Open and Western & Southern Open was shipped to Serena’s house.
‘She’s got a new court in her backyard so she has been training. Again, she’s training, she will be playing and she’s excited to come back.’
Mike Dowes, the USTA chief executive officer and executive Director added: ‘We’re delighted she’s committed this early to play the tournament.
‘She transcends tennis. She is so much bigger than our sport. This is in the best interest of tennis and it’s also good for society.
It shows that our country is opening up again, we’re getting back to somewhat level of normalcy – and Serena is the best ambassador for that.
‘We couldn’t be happier she’s part of it and she pursues her journey for additional Grand Slams.’
There will be growing confidence that Djokovic and Nadal can also be persuaded, with the USTA abandoning restrictions – described as ‘extreme’ by Djokovic – on players travelling with just one other person.
Each player can now bring three people with them, with that number increased should they take up the offer to rent private accommodation in New York rather than stay in the tournament hotel.
How many of those will actually be allowed on site remains to be determined, while there will not be a full complement of line judges, with Hawk-Eye Live running on all courts outside Arthur Ashe and Louis Armstrong.
With no qualifying, current world No. 129 Andy Murray will need a wildcard to get into the tournament or will require eight players to withdraw on top of Federer – who is already absent due to his knee issue.
Regardless of the player field, ranking points will be dished out to players, while there will be a prize money pot of $60million (£47m).
A further $3.3million will be distributed at the discretion of the tours, with an intention to support those players who would usually be involved in qualifying.
There will be an expanded qualifying draw at the Western & Southern Open in order to boost the number of players who can get some matchplay ahead of the Grand Slam.
Testing will be carried out, while players can be eliminated from the tournament if they test positive for coronavirus.
Players will be expected to be strict in their conduct during the tournament to avoid positive tests.
Allaster added: ‘We’ve created a plan so that our athletes can come back and return to work.
‘As we’re all returning to work we all have a responsibility to ourselves, our families and co-workers. I have a lot of confidence in these athletes.