PARIS: World number one Novak Djokovic appeared to row back on scepticism over plans to stage the US Open, saying he was “extremely happy” the Grand Slam had escaped the coronavirus cull which claimed Wimbledon and much of the season.
Djokovic had initially voiced unease over the United States Tennis Association’s intention to keep the event starting on August 31 at Flushing Meadows despite New York being the hardest-hit city by the US coronavirus crisis.
He described health protocols as “extreme” and “impossible”. However, organisers will have been encouraged by the positive noises coming from the three-time US Open champion on Thursday.
“I’m extremely happy and excited to see that all the tournaments, especially Grand Slams, are organising their events,” the Serb said in reference also to the French Open, rescheduled now to start in late September.
“I think that a lot of people were sceptical, especially for the US events considering what the US went through as a country during this pandemic,” the 17-time Grand Slam winner told Eurosport’s Tennis Legends podcast.
“So a lot of people, including myself, were quite sceptical on whether it would happen or not.
“We are very glad that it is happening, of course, and it is very important that we provide opportunities, we provide jobs, we provide opportunities for players to compete.
“Because at the end of the day, this is what we do! As tennis professionals we love the sport; we are passionate about it. We miss competing and travelling and, at the end of the day, we miss being on tour. So I think this is very positive news.”
The 33-year-old said he hoped the stringent restrictions including the existing ban on South American players travelling to compete would be eased before the Grand Slam gets underway.
“Let’s hope that in the next two months some of those restrictions will loosen up a bit and that we will have a great, great tournament.”
‘PERPETUATING MY UNEMPLOYMENT’
This month Djokovic had said that most players he had spoken to had “a rather negative view” about playing in New York, and predicted some would instead switch to the delayed clay court season.
A number of other players have also expressed doubts over the US Open including defending champion Rafael Nadal who said that he would not take part if the event was taking place now.
Women’s world number one Ashleigh Barty as well as Wimbledon champion Simona Halep have also expressed reservations.
The US Open will be played without fans in attendance while strict health protocols will be in place.
However, there has been anger at the decision to drop qualifying from the tournament. “Cheers to ATP and US Open for further perpetuating my unemployment,” tweeted world number 195 Mitchell Krueger of the United States.
Sachia Vickery, the women’s world number 158, tweeted: “What a slap in the face to all the players in qualifying that won’t even have a chance to compete and who literally depend on the money from grand slams to survive.”
Wary of the fall-out, the USTA said $6.6 million will be put aside as compensation for those affected by missing out on the 128-player main draw. There was also anger too at the decision not to stage a wheelchair tournament at the US Open this year.
“Massively disappointed to find out on Twitter this morning that the @usopen plan on cutting wheelchair tennis from this years tournament,” tweeted Paralympic champion Gordon Reid, who is also a four-time doubles winner in New York.
“The wheelchair players have had ZERO communication or consultation from either the ITF or the Grand Slam around this decision.” International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons added: “The decision has left a lot of the athlete community rightly upset and angered”. — AFP