Following a tumultuous week in the tennis world, Japanese players are expressing concerns about plans to relaunch both the men's and women's tours in the U.S. later this summer.
While the ATP and WTA are set to return to empty stadiums — which wasn't the case for the ill-fated Adria Tour organized by Novak Djokovic that led to a mini-cluster of COVID-19 infections among players, including the world No. 1 himself — some are wondering about the viability of holding large-scale tournaments including the U.S. Open.
Restarting amid a pandemic is particularly challenging for a sport that brings together players from all over the world — over 50 countries and states were represented in the U.S. Open men’s and women’s singles draws last year.
Even before the news of positive tests for Djokovic, Grigor Dimitrov and Borna Coric, among other players and coaches, Yoshihito Nishioka said he was worried about the resumption of competitive tennis.
"I think it's too early," he told The Japan Times earlier this month, expressing concerns over the risks still facing players. "I think we have to wait a little bit more." Following the news about Djokovic's positive test, Nishioka's concern appeared to increase, with the world No. 48 questioning on Twitter whether the season could really start as planned.
"If players from all over the world gather at the same hotel and are banned from going out, won't it lead to a cluster?" he questioned.
Misaki Doi, the world No. 76, admitted in an interview Saturday that she's also worried about rejoining the tour.
"There's still many cases and I don't think it's safe. But I also understand that somebody has to start."
But Doi also contrasted the Adria Tour, where social distancing measures were an afterthought and players were seen partying in Belgrade, with the U.S. Open’s planned measures to avoid a flare-up of the virus. The United States Tennis Association has announced myriad measures aimed at making the event as safe as possible, including testing, sanitation and limits to how many people can be on site at once.
“After educating ourselves through consultations with experts, and following near round-the-clock planning for three months, we are confident that we have a plan that is safe, viable and the right thing to do for our sport. This historic undertaking will provide a tremendous boost to the entire tennis industry and community, a boost so needed in these trying times,” USTA President Patrick Galbraith said in a statement June 16 that announced plans for the 2020 event.
Despite her trepidation, Doi said she would make the trip to New York as long as the tournament goes ahead.
Nishioka, speaking earlier this month, also said he would play once the tour resumes. He couldn't be reached for comment after the fallout from the Adria Tour.
Evidently, players are itching to get back on the court, both from a competitive and financial standpoint, even if coronavirus protocols mean they won't be returning to the same sport that they left.
Nishioka, the Japanese No. 2, said he was disappointed to not be able to play this summer, particularly in the Tokyo Olympics, which he had said was his top goal for the 2020 season. He says he's kept busy throughout much of the virus-induced break from competition through a variety of TV appearances and regular uploads to his YouTube channel.
Players can't play now and they're losing money so they have to try different things, Nishioka said of his efforts to raise the profile of tennis and improve his own brand. "Now I don't have any tournaments but I'm having a good time in Japan," he added. Doi, for her part, said it was initially hard to stay focused on tennis without any immediate goals to work toward.
"Tennis players are always busy. Every week we go to a different country and play tournaments. I've been doing this for 10 years or so. So it's a funny feeling," she said.
"Of course I want to play matches so I hope everything is okay."
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