After the Tour de France on Monday at 17.00 hours Dutch time the next big sports event will start in corona time. In New York the US Open will start under a strict protocol. Yet many tennis players did not dare to travel to America. And so the question arises: is the US Open really grandslam-worthy?
We asked coaches Sven Groeneveld and Raemon Sluiter and commentator Marcella Mesker. “It’s crazy if you win there, but that it’s different than it has ever been, that’s obvious”, says Sluiter, who participated in the US Open five times himself at the beginning of this century.
Big name or surprise
Mesker, also five times in the eighties as a player in New York: “It depends very much on who’s going to win. If it does become a big name, we won’t care if we look back in a couple of years. If it’s going to be a surprise, then you’ll think a number of players have left something here.”
Groeneveld wants to turn it around: “Maybe all the circumstances make it more difficult than ever to play here. It’s going to be a huge challenge to win here.”
Groeneveld – the former coach of Monica Seles, Michael Stich and Maria Sjarapova now accompanies the Japanese Taro Daniel – is the only one of the three present in the closed bubble on and around tennis park Flushing Meadows. “We are tested every four days and get nowhere else but on the park and in the hotel. It’s very quiet. No public, press, agents or sponsors. That’s what makes it so different than usual.”
Absentees miss special experience
The men are missing Rafael Nadal and the injured Roger Federer and the women only have four players from the top ten act. Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams are the big stars in New York. Kiki Bertens is not there.
Groeneveld: “I really see it as a loss for the players who are not here. They’re really missing something. It’s a very special experience. We can show that we can all work in a disciplined way.”
Shutter has his doubts: “Maybe it’s too early to go back there. I don’t know if I would have gone if Julia Görges (his new pupil, ed.) had wanted to participate. I wasn’t eager to go that way. But for now they are right on their side with I thought one coronation fall on about 1,600 tests”
That coronavirus was a physiotherapist, but according to the French newspaper L’Equipe there is now also a player tested positive: Benoit Paire. He will be removed from the schedule. The Frenchman arrived in New York on August 18 and complained of abdominal pain. Earlier tests however were negative.
Mesker: “Knowing the Americans, they tackle something like this rigorously. All the messages I get show that everyone feels super safe and that despite the strict protocols there is enough attention for the players”
Missed opportunity for Bertens?
So a missed chance for Bertens on a possible grandslaughter title? “Well, a title is the highest achievable,” responds Mesker. “I think everyone should have been there. Apparently the women feel a bit more stress to make the trip, with all the risks that entails.”
Groeneveld would also have advised Bertens to go: “She’s just missing a grandsla Mesker. They are fast jobs and I think she could be even more dangerous on them. It would have been to her advantage to play here.”
Shutter, the former coach of Bertens, sees it differently. “If she’s not ready to play there, she shouldn’t go. Simple. She’s really left things the way they were in the coronation period. Gone away from tennis. I understand that better than anyone, because I’ve seen how hard she’s worked the last few years and how many matches she’s played.”
The only Dutch player in the singles is Arantxa Rus among the women. She hasn’t been idle the last few months and almost won from Serena Williams this week. Groeneveld: “Great, she is very fit. She has the right mentality, total hunger for the game and weapons to make it difficult for a lot of players”
Because the tennis season has only recently started up again, many players are struggling with start-up problems. Groeneveld, Sluiter and Mesker see more unnecessary mistakes and more striking results than usual. The fact that there is no audience is also to blame.
Groeneveld: “The impact and pressure of 25,000 people is gone. That is a disadvantage for the big players and the Americans, but an advantage for the smaller players. They always play on small courts where there are almost no spectators”
Shutter: “Some players think it’s terrible that there’s no one there. They won’t last as long. But for players who are easily distracted, this is good.”
What especially stands out in the various preparation tournaments: the eagerness splashes off after months without matches. Mesker: “Especially with the women I have seen very intense matches with a lot of willpower. Where tennis players still want to play at the end of the year, it’s different now”
Groeneveld: “You feel that everyone is very happy. They appreciate the fact that they’re playing again.” And Sluiter: “I’ve watched a lot of tennis this week. In that sense I am very happy that the real work will start again.”