Opening of a slot in a Grand Slam main draw should ideally bring cheer to Prajnesh Gunneswaran, ranked No 132 in the world. But the Covid-19 world is a tricky one to negotiate while making choices that would’ve once seemed commonplace for India’s no 2 singles player. Like the upcoming US Open which is dividing the tennis community right down the middle.
The United States Tennis Association (USTA) is expected to go ahead with the US Open as planned, but the prospect of a resumption of the tour isn’t straightforward. “The US is still not fine yet. It’s not a great decision,” says Prajnesh, who played in the main draw of all four Grand Slams in 2019.
“It’s a good thing for the tour to restart. But it is tricky because not everybody can play because there will be some who can’t participate because maybe they aren’t allowed to travel (by their respective governments). It’s a complicated time, but (organisers) have the perspective that they need to run the tournament maybe for the sake of the money that they make from it as an organisation.”
According to The New York Times, ESPN pays the USTA more than USD 70 million for television rights.
After five months of uncertainty, the international tennis tour finally has some clarity with the US Open scheduled to go ahead. A wide array of precautions and measures will have to be put in place to ensure the event is organised smoothly – which includes and is not limited to no spectators being allowed in the stands, no qualification round, players needing to undergo COVID-19 test before coming to New York, and only one member of their usual entourage allowed to accompany them.
The decision to host the event though has not exactly garnered positive feedback.
“In my opinion it’s not the best idea,” adds Prajnesh. “If they’re going to have ranking points and no qualification round, what happens to all the qualifiers? Everybody else in the top 100 get to widen the gap. The other part is the safety aspect since the US is not exactly the safest place to be right now. Those issues are not sorted out yet.”
The likes of world no 1 Novak Djokovic and defending champion Rafael Nadal have made it clear that they aren’t keen on travelling for the major, while five-time winner Roger Federer has withdrawn from the season to recover from surgery. More players from the top 100 are expected to pull out from the event, and since there is no qualification round, the world no 132 is likely to make the main draw.
“Because I might get in, that doesn’t mean that I should be happy and change my tune just because I get to play. I still feel it is unfair,” the Indian says. “There is a possibility, and if they choose to go ahead with the tournament and if the guys decide to play, then of course I will also try to go. But I hope they can come up with something fair for players who are generally in the qualifiers – players up to the 250 (rank) – because they should not widen the gap.”
As of 20:00 IST, New York has a total of 288,096 active cases, which is the most for a state in the United States. However, Prajnesh, who resides in Chennai which is expected to undergo another lockdown from June 19, asserts he isn’t too concerned about making the trip.
“I’m more worried about the old people around me. I know that the chance of me getting it, and it being fatal, are low. And as long as I’m careful I’m not worried. For all you know,” adds the 30-year-old, “I might have already had it before! Maybe I was asymptomatic and now it’s out of my system.”
Making his way to the US though is another hurdle. At the moment, the government has not allowed international travel, and the procedure for testing asymptomatic patients is still unclear – two things that will be required for him to secure his participation. The USTA will be arranging chartered flights for players, but only from Europe, South America, or the Middle East.
“Maybe I’ll have to get to Mumbai and try to make my way,” he says. “It’s a decision I’ll have to think about a little bit more, not just decide to go because I make the draw. Things are a bit different this time. But it’s a Grand Slam main draw opportunity, which is something that doesn’t happen to me so often that I can easily pass it by,” he says of his dilemma.