Tennis Anyone? U.S. Open Coronavirus Precautions Amid Novak Djokovic Testing Positive

The U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) recently received approval from the New York state government to hold the 2020 U.S. Open grand slam tournament at its traditional location, Flushing Meadows, NY, from August 31st to September 13th. But will they be able to do so safely in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic which continues to rampage across the nation? As of June 30th, 2020, the U.S. has recorded 2.68 million cases and 129,000 deaths. To make matters worse, the world’s top-ranked player, Novak Djokovic, recently tested positive for the virulent microorganism.

Novak Djokovic Has Coronavirus

The Serbian tennis star announced in May that he would host the Adria Tour, a four-city exhibition tournament scheduled from June 13th to July 5th. The first match on June 13th saw a stadium filled with 4000 spectators, very few of whom were wearing masks. As we all know by now, infectious pathogens prey on human beings’ need to socialize … despite global public health advisories.

The 17-time Grand Slam champion, his wife, 3 other players, 3 coaches and one player’s pregnant wife all tested positive after an exhibition tournament he had hosted, followed by partying at a packed night club event. Based on video footage, physical/social distancing was nowhere to be found. The Serbian star had previously voiced disapproval about possible mandatory vaccination against Covid-19 in order to participate on the Tour. Djokovic is now self-isolating for 14 days.

Cautionary Practice from the Tennis Community

Not all tennis pros were cavalier with the deadly coronavirus.

French Open Doubles Champion, Murphy Jensen, is not surprised that players are testing positive, including Djokovic. “There is a risk in our world today and for me personally,” says Jensen, co-founder of the addiction recovery tool, WeConnect. I don’t think we are at a place where anyone should be involved in large gatherings of any type where the boundaries of social distancing and wearing a mask are not enforced.”

Before organizing his Ultimate Tennis Showdown series in the south of France, Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena Williams’ long-time coach, contacted the French government which sent him a long list of protocols, subsequently implemented by the Frenchman.

U.S. Open’s Pandemic Protocols

The USTA webpage states the following: “The safety and well-being of all players and event personnel remains the first and foremost consideration of the USTA.” In addition, future USTA Sanctioned events will be held “at the discretion of USTA Sections and local health authorities.”

Electronic line-calling and reduced number of ball people (three vs. six) are a few of the changes introduced at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, which was converted to a temporary Covid-19 hospital at the height of the pandemic in New York, accommodating upwards of 470 patients. The biggest change, perhaps, is the lack of spectators. Other pro sports leagues – NBA, NHL, MLB – are also planning live games without fans in the stands.

Ken Solomon, Chairman and CEO of the Tennis Channel, told me that his team has been preparing for Covid-19 for nearly three months. “We’ve been trying to engineer safe tennis every chance we could,” says Solomon, who’s been actively involved in multiple tournaments since the outbreak, ensuring social distancing at each event. “We just had top players in Charleston, and we were using remote cameras and drones. We’ve innovated remarkably.” Solomon also proudly added: “We’ve had zero positive cases.”

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Professional athletes may not always acknowledge or recognize it, but society has bequeathed them with the title of “role models.” Some reluctantly accept the designation while others, like NBA star, LeBron James, carry it proudly, wearing t-shirts labeled “I Can’t Breathe” and actively leading the charge against voter suppression. Former heavyweight boxing champion, Lennox Lewis, made a public service announcement, “Real men don’t hit women.” Leadership comes in all forms. It’s a major responsibility, but also an opportunity to have a profound impact on society, one person at a time. From civic action and women’s rights to criminal justice reform to public health advocacy, our leaders – including professional athletes – must lead by example. And in the midst of a global infectious disease outbreak, the message is clear: #WearAMask and practice #PhysicalDistancing.

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