September 13, 2020
New York, New York, USA
THE MODERATOR: Welcome to our 1 p.m. press conference with USTA CEO Mike Dowse and US Open tournament director Stacey Allaster.
We will begin with questions.
Q. It was an incredible semifinals of tennis and finals of women's tennis that we saw. Can you walk us your decision to decide to hold this this year? It's hard to talk about all the challenges. Did you ever consider not doing it? What made the decision that you went ahead and did it?
MIKE DOWSE: I'll take that question.
I think how we came to this decision, and we shared it in a couple other press briefings, we really established some guiding principles at the beginning. The first one was could we do it in a healthy and safe way for everyone. That included the players, the staff, even the local community here in New York.
The second guiding principle was is this good for the sport of tennis, will it reignite our industry in the broader tennis ecosystem.
The third question is frankly did it make financial sense, that included for the players and for the USTA, again the broader tennis ecosystem.
As we went through this journey starting in mid-March, we couldn't say yes at all times against those three guiding principles. But ultimately on June 16th we said yes with this formula we put together, which included the Western & Southern, which at the time was a crazy idea, moving Cincinatti to New York, and now it seems very common. But by combining these two tournaments together, on June 16th we said, yes, we can check all three of those boxes. We continued to hold ourselves to that standard all the way through frankly to today.
At the end we reflect back and say it's safe, it's been good for tennis, and it's been financially good for the players and the tennis ecosystem.
Q. I had a question about the use of Hawk-Eye this year. The experiment with only having automated line calls on the outside courts worked? It was a success? Do you think this might spell the end of the line judges next year on the main courts, as well? Curious if Novak's exit informs any of the decision-making around that.
STACEY ALLASTER: We've had four weeks of the experiment of Hawk-Eye Live. It's been a terrific success. There's no debate.
A few data points for you. Over the four weeks, Hawk-Eye Live has made a total of 304,000 calls. Close calls, 11,901. Those are the red or green that the chair umpire is seeing. The close calls during the US Open, just over 9,000.
This was a 2020 focus. We made no decisions around 2021. But this was a great effort on behalf of all of our competition team and the Hawk-Eye team members, both tours, to support the experiment. We couldn't be more pleased with how it has been executed.
Q. What are some of the tangible takeaways that you hope or would like to see other governing bodies take away from this tournament as they seek to run tournaments in this reality we're living in?
MIKE DOWSE: I think my big takeaway has been the collaboration. Again, it started back in March. Everyone was involved with this decision-making process. We had weekly calls with our peers at the Grand Slam board, so we've shared best practices with them, specifically Roland Garros who is starting in a few weeks.
Again, we had weekly calls with the ATP, the WTA, the ITF. Then you think about all the government entities that were involved. It started at the federal level with us. We even had international diplomacy as we had to work to get players in and out of the country, and then at the local, state, city and county levels.
The key was constant contact. That even goes to our partnerships and our sponsors, having full alignment with them to go through something that none of us had ever been through. It was completely new. That way we were all on the same page.
I think we all know tennis has been a little fractured in the past. This was a great moment where tennis came together. I think we can all learn from that and continue to strive to work together going forward.
STACEY ALLASTER: I'll add to having been in the operations of it. It really I think these four weeks have been able to demonstrate to the world how our sport can return to play safely.
I am enjoying watching Istanbul be played, Kitzbuhel. Rome has started. The journey for the athletes, for their support teams, for the federations and the tournament organizers that we're partners with within the sport, this has been a blueprint to show everyone involved with our sport how we can return to play during this global pandemic.
We know that here we made one commitment to everyone: that this would be a safe US Open. On this championship Sunday we are closing down this very historic moment for our sport here in New York City with a very healthy and safe US Open. Everyone now is leaving and carrying on in our sport. That I think is the other big takeaway for us. We're back.
New York rallied. The US Open rallied. Everyone in our sport now gets a chance to continue on with a little bit of knowledge that they have all experienced here during their time in New York.
Q. I'm curious as to whether in dealing with the quarantine issues globally, did some sort of COVID travel document be created for these players to return to their native countries?
MIKE DOWSE: If I understood the question right, you're asking was there a document created or could there be a document created?
Q. Was there?
MIKE DOWSE: On May 24th it did start with a proclamation from the federal government that allowed athletes to come into our country. For the players to return back to their home countries, primarily Europe at this point, as the tour now is moving to Rome and Roland Garros, we worked closely with Italy and France to provide the players with the testing prior to them leaving.
We've aligned with the test standards that are needed in both Italy and in France to make sure all the athletes who participate in the US Open had access to those tests before they have left. We've worked with them on that. They're carrying those documents with them to show they've tested negative and are good to go.
STACEY ALLASTER: I'll add in addition to all the test results being provided, together with the French Federation, the Italian Federation, Kitzbuhel event, anything that their governments needed, those documents were all printed out through our player services team, and the athletes had everything they needed from their testing results and their official documents heading back to Europe to those countries to play.
Q. Have any of the players that were put in quarantine on Long Island, did they all ultimately test negative, do you know?
MIKE DOWSE: Yes, they have all tested negative.
Q. Stacey, just wondering whether you were surprised at all that the French Open is going to allow spectators, and whether at this point you think perhaps you could have allowed spectators or you're glad you did not?
STACEY ALLASTER: I know that here in New York City, when I landed on August the 3rd, I was incredibly humbled and inspired by every first responder in New York City and New York state to give us a chance to play. The New York state government has allowed professional sport to return to play, including the US Open, with no fans.
I completely respect, understand, and support that decision. Never in my mind did it ever doubt that it was the absolute right decision. We've missed the fans. It hasn't been the same without them. But no doubt in my mind it was the right decision for us here in New York.
The one thing about the virus is that every day it brings new information, new science, and new data. You can only really manage your return to work, your return to play for us, based on local science. I trust that the French Federation, with their leadership, and the French government, that they're managing the virus with their medical facts. They've deemed in their country, in their city, that it's safe.
I now wish them the greatest of success to have the same results that we've had: a safe Roland Garros, and inspiring tennis with amazing athletes for two weeks.
Q. What would be the one biggest piece of advice you would each give to the folks over at Roland Garros how to pull off a successful Grand Slam tournament?
MIKE DOWSE: I think my initial reaction is, again, I always go back to collaboration. The more people that get involved, the smarter you get about the pandemic and the tools you have access to to prevent anyone from getting sick.
I look back, again our number one guiding principle was the health and safety of everyone. We had a 99.97% negative test rate over 6,500 tests in our Tier I controlled or contained environment.
To me, that's the ultimate level of success, did we do it safely. That's the discussions we've been sharing with Roland Garros and other entities in professional tennis, is giving them as much information that we learned over these last few months.
I know moving forward we'll rely on them, too, to learn best practices. It all comes down to teamwork, working together, to figure out the best way to do this.
STACEY ALLASTER: My advice is to stay the course. Stay focused that this is an invisible enemy. From the moment you open the doors for staff, for partners, for the athletes and their support team members, be guided by medical science and the doctors.
That is the number one thing. I've shared with them, and I know that they are preparing around the clock, just like we have.
Q. I was wondering if you could clarify a few details about the timeline that led to the postponement of the Mannarino-Zverev match on Friday and the exclusion of Mladenovic from the doubles tournament with relation to their contact with Benoit Paire that resulted positive. From the outside it appeared quite odd that the health authority first of the State of New York, then of Nassau County expressed their disapproval of the protocol that was put in place so many days after this actually happened. I was wondering if you could clarify exactly the timeline.
MIKE DOWSE: I think we should both answer that. I'll start.
It all starts with it was a very fluid situation. It was happening in real-time. As we were having to make decisions and getting guidance from multiple levels of government, we kept tying them back to our guiding principles around the health and safety of everyone.
Specific to your question, with Mannarino's match, I think we shared previously we had had some enhanced protocol for the athletes who had, and I say potentially been exposed with prolonged contact to Benoit Paire. We put some enhanced protocol in place for those athletes. We were operating under that guidance.
As the county and state got involved, we had potentially a different take on how we should approach these athletes who were potentially exposed from Benoit Paire. We were getting messaging from both the county of Nassau and the State of New York that they wanted to investigate and look at this.
As Mannarino was going on the court, we had not heard anything back from them at that point. The messaging we were getting is they were still very comfortable with our enhanced protocol. Again, we thought it was in the best interest to continue with that match.
After the match occurred, the State of New York felt more comfortable with what Nassau County had asked us to adhere to, and that frankly was quarantining the players. That evening they were issued papers asking them to stay in their room from 14 days from the point of potential contact. That was kind of the sequence of events on that day.
Q. Just to clarify. The State of New York and the Nassau County had never explicitly approved the enhanced protocol before they expressed their concerns by the end of the first week when the Mannarino-Zverev match was supposed to take place?
MIKE DOWSE: Yeah, as we were competing the tournament in New York City, our contact had been the City of New York, the Department of Health. They had worked with us on the contact tracing, established that what we call enhanced protocol that allowed the players to go to from hotel room, the practice courts, and back to the hotel room in their own transportation.
Hopefully that gives you a better clarity on how it rolled out last week.
Q. Of course, we still have the men's final and a few wheelchair finals today. What was running through your mind yesterday during the women's singles trophy ceremony which began putting a bow on this US Open and all the work that has been done over the past months?
STACEY ALLASTER: Wow, I was incredibly proud of the athletes, Naomi, her second US Open, her third Grand Slam, fighting back after that first set. The leadership that she has played within our sport on Arthur Ashe Stadium. I was thinking about that, how proud Arthur would be.
I was fighting back tears like Vika was. I'm thinking to myself, Please, Stace, don't do it. I was trying to have Vika not do it either. I've had a long journey with Vika from when she was a young woman and I was with the WTA, how far she has come, what a remarkable story of her journey.
These are strong, confident women that have rallied through diversity in their own kind of way. For her to be on that court competing for a Grand Slam final, being so close to winning, with great respect. I still wasn't breathing yet. I don't get to breathe until the last ball that the guys hit this afternoon. Then I will breathe a sigh of relief that we've done it in that safe and healthy manner that we all committed to.
MIKE DOWSE: I was extremely grateful we had gotten this far. The stress and long hours put on this staff since mid-March has been incredible. To see it all come to a celebration yesterday afternoon with another celebration today was great.
I also love that we had an opportunity for the staff that's worked so hard on the grounds over the last few weeks keeping us safe and healthy had an opportunity to have some of the best seats in the world for world-class tennis, that they were able to come in and watch the women's final.
Q. Usually when we go to slams, there are marathon matches or upsets. There's a lot of incredible messaging, the new open world, Naomi's journey with her masks. What did that mean? What touched you about that? Will that be something that continues?
MIKE DOWSE: Thanks for the question.
I want to tie that into the broader campaign, our Be Open Campaign. I'm sure everyone had an opportunity to watch the various vignettes we've had running on TV and social media the last few weeks.
To me it's a huge moment for the USTA and the US Open to really show that our sport is open to people from all backgrounds. That's super important. We've had a rich history of diversity in our sport, but we can do so much more to bring more people to the sport.
I've talked to a few people. I think about the '70s, what the Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs did to ignite the tennis boom of the '70s. In a strange way that might be the silver lining of the pandemic in that we see tennis participation, entry level tennis participation, through the first eight months of this year is up 55% in the United States.
So you think about that. People have been in hibernation or quarantine, and they've missed physical exercise, they've missed having fun, they've missed socializing with their friends. Tennis provides all that.
It's not just to the reputation of the elitist sport of the past. It's true for all people. Everyone loves to have socialization, exercise and fun. Our sport is the best for that. It's a low-cost sport. You can buy a can of tennis balls for two or three dollars. You can buy a great entry level racquet for 30 or 40 dollars. We have hundreds of thousands of free public courts around the country.
I'm confident coming out of this that tennis is primed for growth. Again, it could be one of the greatest silver linings of this pandemic, is it's created unbelievable awareness for tennis and what it can mean for people to get out and enjoy our sport moving forward.
STACEY ALLASTER: On the moments where we perhaps thought it wasn't going to happen, the adversity was there, I remember speaking to Billie. She said, Stace, remember who you serve.
Building on what Mike just said, we're serving our sport. It's been an unbelievable privilege.
Rather than just hear it directly from Mike or myself, I want to share fan feedback. We get a lot of fan feedback. Sometimes it's not as complimentary. This is what it's been about. I think it was poignant that it was circulated this morning to us.
USTA, well done pulling off a wonderful event in New York.
Could you hear us cheering through the matches all the way from California?
What a model and a standard you set for the world about safe events.
You have managed to lift us up out of our COVID-19 seclusion.
Thank you for embracing inclusive ideas for change and for demonstrating action for change.
This was the most inspiring Open I have ever watched in over 25 years.
That is why we and all of our staff for the past six months have dedicated our lives to this moment, to serve our sport and to have more Americans and people around the world play the great game of tennis.
That for me is the crowning moment and why we've done it. I couldn't be more inspired and more proud of the entire team, and to be a small part of this historic moment for the sport of tennis.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Mike and Stacey. That concludes this afternoon's press conference.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports