Andy Murray, making a monumental comeback to professional tennis after a career-threatening hip surgery, saved a match point and came back from two sets down to beat Yoshihito Nishioka in the first round of the 2020 US Open. After the match, Murray fans erupted in applause for the former World No. 1. However, the camera displayed nothing but empty blue seats in the Arthur Ashe Stadium. The sound was captured and played by IBM from last year’s US Open. Instead of waving to his fans in the stadium, Murray waved to a giant screen placed in the stadium, serving as a virtual fan box. This year’s US Open was, to say the least, unique.
When World No. 2 Rafael Nadal withdrew from the tournament citing health concerns regarding the pandemic, many questioned the capability of the US Open organizers to conduct a safe tournament amid a public health crisis. “This is a decision I never wanted to take but I have decided to follow my heart this time and for the time being I [would] rather not travel,” the Spanish star said.
However, an endless amount of work was done behind the scenes to ensure the safety of all players. From implementing zone-based, passive radio-frequency identification chips for assistance in contact tracing to requiring all players and personnel to complete a health intake questionnaire for entry into the stadium, sufficient care and precautions were taken. US Open Chief Medical Officer Dr. Alexis Colvin was very proud of the effort put in by all her staff. “To come from, just a couple of months ago, being in that environment in regard to COVID-19, and then come to help put on this event, it was pretty meaningful,” Colvin said.
There might not have been fans sitting in the US Open stands, but the front rows of the Arthur Ashe Stadium displayed art reflecting on the Black Lives Matter movement. The sports world has been vocal in its support of the movement.
Professional tennis players — particularly athletes of color — have been speaking out about these issues and using their platforms to get more people to talk about them.
Former World No.1 Naomi Osaka wore seven different face masks for each round of the tournament. Each mask named a Black person whose death had been cited all around the world in nationwide protests. From Breonna Taylor to George Floyd, Osaka said the masks were her way of using her platform to protest against racial injustice. “Raising awareness — even on social media — will hopefully lead to more people talking about them,” Osaka said.
This year’s US Open was marred with controversies, the most prominent one being World No. 1 and title favorite Novak Djokovic’s disqualification from his fourth-round match against Pablo Carreño Busta. Djokovic, frustrated after losing a point against Busta, smacked a ball behind him in frustration, accidentally hitting the line judge in her throat.
A United States Tennis Association statement said: “In accordance with the Grand Slam rule-book, following his actions of intentionally hitting a ball dangerously or recklessly within the court or hitting a ball with negligent disregard of the consequences, the tournament referee defaulted Novak Djokovic from the 2020 US Open.”
Djokovic was quick to admit his mistake and acknowledged his reckless behavior on court. “This whole situation has left me really sad and empty,” he said. “I‘m extremely sorry to have caused her such stress. So unintended. So wrong … I apologize to the US Open tournament and everyone associated for my behavior.” Djokovic’s disqualification ended his 29-match winning streak and paved the way for the touted “Next-Gen” superstars to taste the glory of a first Grand Slam win. Of the eight quarter-finalists in the men’s draw, six players were of age 24 and under.
27-year-old Dominic Thiem, who went on to win the tournament in a nail-biting final, said: “I think it was good for men’s tennis that there is a new face on the winning list,” Dominic Thiem, who went on to win the tournament in a nail-biting final, said.
While youngsters were making headlines in the men’s draw, the women’s draw saw nine mothers starting in the women’s singles draw. For the first time in the professional era, three moms advanced to the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam. “I just have a totally new respect for moms. I would never have thought I would be playing as a mom … The [plus] is that, one day your daughter can say she was there,” former World No. 1 Serena Williams said.
“I don’t identify myself on the tennis court as a mother. I still identify myself as a tennis player,” former champion Victoria Azarenka said. “Me being in the quarterfinals, I didn’t get there by being a parent. I got there by being a tennis player.”
With all the ups and downs, controversies and uncertainties, the 2020 US Open was a tournament which players and fans alike will never forget. Professional tennis is officially back.