COVID-19 and con­tro­versy over a play­ers’ union have al­ready had an im­pact on the US Open ten­nis tour­na­ment, mak­ing it one of the strangest in the his­tory of the game.

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While many of the ma­jor play­ers will be at the US Open, a num­ber of top seeds are un­able to at­tend due to health and travel wor­ries. Most no­table are Rafael Nadal and Bianca An­dreescu, who won the men’s and women’s ti­tles last year, along with the ladies world num­ber one Ash­leigh Barty, and Roger Fed­erer, who has had knee surgery.

Andy Mur­ray, who re­turns to the game af­ter a long re­cov­ery from in­jury, has said that he ex­pects the ex­pe­ri­ence to be “weird”. He has not played in a ma­jor tour­na­ment since the Aus­tralian Open in 2019, so walk­ing onto a court with­out any fans will be very dif­fer­ent.

Ser­ena Wil­liams, who will be tak­ing part, thinks the un­usual cir­cum­stances mean the tour­na­ment will al­ways be re­mem­bered, but she hopes that it will not de­value it. “If you win, it will be like: ‘Wow, I was able to win in this crazy cir­cum­stance where there was no fans. It was just so ster­ile and weird, but I men­tally came through’,” she said.

De­spite all the play­ers be­ing in a tour­na­ment bub­ble, French player Benoît Paire tested pos­i­tive for COVID-19 be­fore the first match was played and with­drew from the tour­na­ment. He has had to iso­late for ten days, and to date no other cases have been dis­cov­ered.

In ad­di­tion No­vak Djokovic, who is also play­ing, re­signed as pres­i­dent of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Ten­nis Pro­fes­sion­als (ATP). Up to 70 other male pro­fes­sion­als sup­port him and pro­pose to start a play­ers’ union, but other ma­jor play­ers such as Rafael Nadal, Roger Fed­erer and Andy Mur­ray are not yet com­mit­ted. It has caused some fric­tion in the locker rooms al­ready and it is not clear whether women, who have their own sep­a­rate as­so­ci­a­tion, will be in­vited to join the new or­gan­i­sa­tion if it goes ahead.

The US Open is on un­til 13 Septem­ber.

Bri­tain’s Jo­hanna Konta is seeded num­ber nine in the US Open

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