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15 Jun, 2020 11:38

Net returns: US Open 'happening' as planned – but world no.1 Djokovic is on a collision course as aces threaten to shun tournament

Net returns: US Open 'happening' as planned – but world no.1 Djokovic is on a collision course as aces threaten to shun tournament

The US Open will risk the absence of three-time champion Novak Djokovic and several of his fellow stars by taking place in New York in its scheduled slot on the tennis calendar from late August, according to reports in America.

Leading star Djokovic has been critical of plans to limit players to an entourage of one during this year's championships and restrict their movement in a bid to protect them from the Covid-19 outbreak that has ravaged New York, calling the measures "extreme" and hinting that they could convince him to skip this year's tournament.

The Serb has caused controversy by holding a charity tournament in his homeland without any of the interventions under consideration by the United States Tennis Association (USTA), which is desperate to avoid a huge financial hit by finding a way to host the tournament behind closed doors.

Despite the hugely influential Djokovic claiming that the season would resume on clay in September, Forbes has reported "multiple sources" as saying that the plan to hold the Open between August 31 and September 13 is on the brink of being approved by the men's and women's tours, with agreements “happening or almost there.”

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The ban on fans and media is yet to be confirmed among organizers, according to the sources, but the showpiece at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center looks likely to be significantly reduced should it fail to persuade Djokovic, world number two Rafael Nadal and a host of other major hitters to take part.

“They want the tournament to go ahead at any cost for economic reasons, which I understand," Djokovic told Serbia’s Prva TV, alluding to the vast shortfall the USTA is set to face at an event that made $380 million in revenue when he last won it in 2018.

"But the question is, how many players are willing to accept those terms? The rules they told us we would have to respect to be there, to play at all, are extreme.

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"We would not have access to Manhattan, we would have to sleep in hotels at the airport, to be tested twice or three times per week."

Speaking at Djokovic's inaugural Adria Tour showpiece in Belgrade, where the national hero lost his first match of the year at the weekend before breaking down in tears in a show of emotion he said had been brought on by childhood memories, former champion Goran Ivanisevic denied rumors that Djokovic had told players not to take part in this year's tournament in its proposed form.

"I guess people have something against it right away when you’re honest," argued the former champion. "Novak expresses his opinion. He did not tell anyone not to play. He always puts those on-duty critics in his pocket."

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Others hit back at Djokovic by claiming that the 33-year-old had contradicted his previous claims to care about less wealthy players suffering financial strain without prize money.

“No one has been able to play sanctioned events or make money since February," women's number 51 Danielle Collins wrote to Djokovic.

"Here we have an awesome opportunity with the US Open talking about proceeding forward with the event, with some strict safety precautions to make sure all players feel safe and their health is put first.

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"This is a massive opportunity for players to start making money again, and here we have the top player in the world saying only being able to bring one person with [him] will be too difficult be able to bring his entourage.

"It’s easy when someone’s made $150 million throughout their career to try and tell people what to do with their money. For those of us who don’t travel with an entourage, we actually need to start working again.

"It would be nice to have the best player in the world supporting this opportunity and not spoiling it for the players and the fans."

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British number one Dan Evans echoed Collins' call, telling the BBC that allowing players to travel with only one player outside of their team was not "such a big deal."

“The majority of the draw would only travel with one coach," he explained. "Not everyone is travelling with a fitness coach and trainer like Novak. His argument there is not really valid for the rest of the draw apart from the real top guys.

“There has to be a bit of give and take from the players. There are rumours that the US Open really need this to go ahead and I think as tennis players we should give something back and get out there and play."

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Alongside concerns about hosting a major event in one of the outbreak epicenters of a country that has seen more than 428,000 deaths from the coronavirus, there are also safety worries as a result of the widespread unrest and protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police brutality.

Nadal, who has warned Djokovic to forego his anti-vaccine stance should a treatment be offered to players, has conceded that he expects the rest of the tennis calendar year could be called off, and outspoken Australian Nick Kyrgios derided the continued planning of the tournament as "selfish."

Djokovic and Nadal's main rival, Roger Federer, has already curtailed his year on the court in favor of a knee operation, and six-time US Open winner Serena Williams appeared to admit that she would choose to spend time with her daughter, Olympia, rather than play this year.

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Women's number one Ashleigh Barty became the latest headliner to cast doubt on the event, writing an email to AP in which she said she was "still getting my head around what the tournament set up would be."

"I can't wait to get back out there and play but we have to make sure it's safe to do so first – not just for me, but for my team," she added. "I understand the tournaments are eager to run but keeping everyone safe has to be the priority."

The tournament is understood not to have any insurance protection of the kind that allowed Wimbledon bosses to recoup around $141 million when they opted to cancel in April.

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