Serena Williams said Wednesday that she definitely plans to play in the U.S. Open as she again tries to match Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles. Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Associated Press

Here’s how all-in Serena Williams is on participating in the 2020 U.S. Open: She set up a practice area at her home with the new brand of hard courts being used at Flushing Meadows this year.

For all the doubts about which top players will actually enter the first Grand Slam tennis tournament of the coronavirus pandemic, the biggest name in the sport made clear Wednesday that she intends to be there when the main draw begins Aug. 31.

“Ultimately, I really cannot wait to return to New York,” Williams said in a video that was shown during the U.S. Tennis Association presentation of plans for its marquee event.

“I feel like the USTA is going to do a really good job of ensuring everything is amazing and everything is perfect and everyone is safe,” said the owner of an Open-era record 23 major singles titles. “It’s going to be exciting. It (will have been) six months since a lot of us have played professional tennis.”


Australia’s Nick Kyrgios says the ATP is being selfish in staging the U.S. Open despite the coronavirus pandemic, and with protests continuing around the country in support of racial equality. Andy Brownbill/Associated Press

Romania’s Simona Halep and Australia’s Nick Kyrgios aren’t quite so excited. Kyrgios called tournament organizers selfish for trying to go ahead with the U.S. Open while the country continues to battle the coronavirus and watches anti-racism protests around the country.

While the likes of defending champion Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have expressed reservations about participating in the U.S. Open, Kyrgios said on Twitter that it doesn’t make any sense to hold the tournament.

“The ATP is trying to make the US Open go ahead. Selfish with everything going on at the moment,” wrote Kyrgios. “Obviously Covid, but also with the riots. Together we need to overcome these challenges before tennis returns in my opinion.”

The tennis season has been put on hold since March. The French Open has been postponed until September, and Wimbledon was canceled for the first time in 75 years.

Nadal has sounded apprehensive when asked about resuming competitive tennis, and Djokovic is mulling the idea of pulling out of the U.S. Open in order to prepare for the French Open.

“Most of the players I have talked to were quite negative on whether they would go there. For me currently, as things stand, most probably the season will continue on clay at the beginning of September,” Djokovic said on Wednesday.

Halep, a two-time major champion and former women’s No. 1, said Wednesday she does not “currently plan to play” at the U.S. Open, though her stance “is not set in stone.”

The 28-year-old Romanian is currently ranked No. 2 and is the reigning champion at Wimbledon. She also won the French Open in 2018. Her best showing at Flushing Meadows was a semifinal appearance in 2015.

“Given the conditions outlined in the U.S. Open announcement this morning, as of today I do not currently plan to play in NYC,” Halep said. “However, as we know, this situation is fluid and the conditions may change and improve before the entry deadline in mid-July. I would like to underline that my decision is not set in stone. I have expressed my thoughts to both (U.S. Open tournament director) Stacey Allaster and (WTA CEO) Steve Simon and have explained the personal circumstances around them.”

Another two-time major champion, Petra Kvitova, released a statement that indicated she has yet to decide whether to go to New York.

“Hopefully the COVID-19 numbers and conditions around travel restrictions continue to improve,” Kvitova said, “in order to make the decision to play an easy one.”

The U.S. Open normally is the fourth and final Grand Slam tournament of each season. It’s scheduled to be held without spectators from Aug. 31 to Sept. 13, which would make it the second major of 2020, following the Australian Open, which concluded in early February.

The USTA got the green light Tuesday from the New York state government to go ahead with its proposal for a scaled-down tournament. There will be no spectators, fewer events, fewer on-court officials and regular temperature checks and occasional nasal swabs for COVID-19. Most players – and their reduced entourages – will stay at two designated hotels, although more expensive private homes are also an option.

“I’ll certainly miss the fans, don’t get me wrong,” said Williams. “Just being out there, and that New York crowd, and hearing everyone cheer. I’ll really miss that, getting me through some of those tough matches.”

Her backing for the tournament – she has won it six times and was the runner-up in 2018 and 2019 – is certainly a boost for broadcaster ESPN and perhaps will help sway other uncertain players to compete, too.

“It’s clear we’re extremely excited and appreciative she’s committed this early to play the tournament,” USTA CEO Mike Dowse said. “As we all know, she transcends tennis. She’s so much bigger than our sport.”

On Wednesday, the USTA announced several changes to this year’s tournament in an attempt to limit the risk of exposure to the coronavirus, including:

• Electronic line-calling will be used instead of line judges on all courts except the two largest arenas – Arthur Ashe Stadium and Louis Armstrong Stadium. Those smaller courts will also have three ball people instead of six.

• There will be no mixed doubles, juniors or wheelchair competition. There also will not be any qualifying rounds.

• Men’s and women’s doubles will be reduced from 64 teams each to 32, and only players not in singles may enter.

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