By Nicholas Hellinghausen
With the COVID-19 pandemic still looming over the world, the 2021 Tennis Grand Slams will likely continue with the bubble concept and limited capacity.
During 2020, three of the four Grand Slams were able to take place; Wimbledon was cancelled for the first time since 1945. The Australian Open took place in January before the pandemic erupted, allowing the tournament to proceed as usual. The French and U.S. Opens were forced to alter the structure of their events to make a 2020 edition of the tournament possible.
The U.S. Open was staged during its usual time, at the end of August into the beginning of September. To limit the number of people on the grounds, the United States Tennis Association prohibited fans from attending the tournament, cut down the number of teams in the doubles draws and cancelled the qualifying stages. The MSNBC newscast below from earlier this year explains some of the precautions in more detail.
The tournament also required that players stay at either The Long Island Marriott in Uniondale, the Garden City Hotel or in some instances rent a private house during their stay in New York. The rule was enforced to limit players’ contact with the general public. Players had to undergo frequent COVID-19 testing and were limited to bringing three team members with them on the premises.
If a player broke any protocols, tested positive for the COVID-19 virus or was in contact with somebody who tested positive, they would be withdrawn from the tournament. This was the case when the top-seeded women’s doubles pair, Kristina Mladenovic and Tímea Babos, were withdrawn from their second-round encounter after Mladenovic played cards one night with Benoît Paire who tested positive for the virus.
The French Open took place shortly after the U.S. Open, with the qualifying rounds starting on September 21. The French Open had to move their typical start date, which is at the end of May, because of the pandemic. This marked the first time that the French Open took place in the fall and presented players with tons of new challenges.
Players battled gusts of wind, 50-degree Fahrenheit temperatures, heavy tennis balls, slow court speeds and several rain delays. In order to keep the players safe, the French Open adopted the same procedures as the U.S. Open for withdrawing players who were exposed to the virus. Like the U.S. Open, players were required to stay in one of two designated hotels, but they would not have the hotels to themselves as players did in New York. Fans were allowed to attend the French Open, but the grounds had a limited capacity of 1,000 people per day.
The majority of players expressed how the conditions were much better at the bubble in New York than the one in Paris. Players said that they appreciated how the USTA set up different activities for the players across the tournament grounds.
The U.S. Open premises was filled with pool tables, basketball nets, ping pong tables, an arcade room and seeded players were provided their own suite inside of Arthur Ashe Stadium. The USTA even provided players with several dining options and amenities at the hotels they were staying at. German tennis pro Alexander Zverev described it as “a massive camping trip with all the tennis players.”
In Paris on the other hand, the athletes described their hotels as crammed with little accommodations. Players expressed concern about the levels of social distancing that were taking place at both the tournament and hotel.
With a lot of uncertainties still surrounding the state of the COVID-19 virus, Grand Slam officials are planning a variety of scenarios for the 2021 editions of their tournaments. Tournament directors are hoping to let as many fans as possible onto the grounds next year and cut back on the restrictions placed on the players. The Australian Open, which is the first Grand Slam of the year, already announced that it is confident that the tournament will take place, but officials are still ironing out all the details of the event.