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US Open competitor tests positive for COVID-19, day before tournament is set to start

Arthur Ashe Stadium
mizoula/iStock

mizoula/iStockBY: JOSHUA HOYOS, ABC NEWS    

(NEW YORK) — A player set to compete in the U.S. Open tennis championship has tested positive for COVID-19 and has been forced to withdraw from the tournament, the USTA announced on Sunday.

The player, who was not identified by tournament organizers, is asymptomatic, US Open officials said in a statement. The player has been advised that they must isolate for at least 10 days and contact tracing has been initiated to determine if anyone must quarantine for 14 days, the USTA said.

The 2020 U.S. Open is set to be the first major sporting championship in the U.S. since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tournament organizers have been taking precautions to mitigate any possible spread of the novel coronavirus.

Earlier this month, the USTA released their health and safety plan for the tournament. Players and members of the highest tiered bubble, including the players’ teams, tournament officials and medical personnel, will be tested twice and following 2 negative results, they will be tested every 4 days. Members of the tightest bubble will receive access to the National Tennis Center following the first negative test. Lower tiered people allowed onto the tennis facility will include broadcasters and support staff.

“Our protocol for that task was a little different than the other leagues with all the global players and participation, we have players coming from around 60 different countries in the world,” USTA CEO Mike Dowse told ABC News.

He added that moving Cincinnati’s Western & Southern Championship to the U.S. Open facilities in Flushing, Queens, helped create a 30-day bubble for players.

Over a dozen players pulled out of the tournament ahead of play including Simona Halep, who is currently ranked No. 2 in the world.

At the time of her withdrawal, Halep tweeted, “After weighing up all the factors involved and with the exceptional circumstances in which we are living, I have decided that I will not travel to New York to play the US Open. I always said I would put my health at the heart of my decision.”

The defending women’s champion Bianca Andreescu also withdrew from the tournament. Andreescu, who hasn’t played on tour since October in part because of injury, said the COVID-19 outbreak prevented her from properly preparing for competition.

Rafael Nadal also announced earlier this month that he would not seek to defend his title at the U.S. Open because of concerns surrounding COVID-19.

“The situation is very complicated worldwide, the COVID-19 cases are increasing, it looks like we still don’t have control of it, Nadal wrote in an Instagram post on Aug. 4. “We know that the reduced tennis calendar is barbaric this year after 4 months stopped with no play… This is a decision I never wanted to take but I have decided to follow my heart this time and for the time being I rather not travel.”

Despite the change in play, a number of top echelon players will be taking the court including Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams, Andy Murray, Coco Gauff and Sloane Stevens.

Williams will be looking to add a seventh U.S. Open title to her portfolio and tie Margaret Court’s 24 wins for the most grand slam titles ever by a woman.

“It’s like I’ll never be satisfied until I retire,” she said on Saturday.

Arthur Ashe Stadium, the game’s biggest stage and the U.S. Open’s center court, will be a lot quieter than in years past. With the help of technology from IBM Watson, production teams will be able to make the empty stadium feel like the nearly 24,000 seats are full again.

IBM says it will use AI Highlights technology to recreate crowd sounds gleaned from hundreds of hours of video footage captured during last years’ tournament. That technology will be featured in the ESPN broadcast of the tournament.

“This year, we made a massive pivot to use Watson AI — underpinned by the cloud — to bring fans closer to the action since they can’t be in Flushing in person,” said Noah Syken, IBM vice president of sports & entertainment partnerships.

For some players, the quiet facilities will be a throwback to the start of their tennis careers.

“I have more matches under my belt with no fans than I do with fans, so … I think, to be honest, it will just take me back to when I first started on tour,” American tennis star Coco Gauff said.

It will be a far cry from what 15-year-old Robin Montgomery could have dreamed about ahead of becoming the youngest player ever to make her debut in the main draw.

“I’m really excited to play against these top players,” she told “Good Morning America,” adding, “I just want to take this moment and enjoy everything about it because it’s such a great opportunity. And then of course, I want to win.”

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City, the USTA transformed parts of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center into an nearly 500 bed overflow hospital ward to help alleviate the strain on Queens’ hard-hit Elmhurst Hospital.

At the start of evening sessions, the USTA will be unveiling a series of conversations called “Champions to Champions,” which will honor front-line workers through the pandemic. Tennis champions like Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Venus Williams, Chris Evert and Billie Jean King will talk to health care workers to recognize their work in the fight against COVID-19.

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