A decision will be made in June on whether to host the US Open this year due to the coronavirus outbreak and while hosting the tennis Grand Slam without fans is being discussed, it is an unlikely scenario, organisers said on Thursday.
The professional tennis season has, like most major sport, been left in disarray amid in the spread of Covid-19. No tournaments have been held since the start of March and play will not resume until at least July 13, leading to the cancellation of many events, most notably Wimbledon for the first time since the Second World War.
The US Open, which is scheduled to run from August 31 to September 13, is the fourth and final Grand Slam on the tennis calendar and is famous for its boisterous crowds and late night sessions.
"Playing without spectators, we're not taking anything off the table right now, but to be honest and open, I think that's highly unlikely," United States Tennis Association (USTA) chief executive Mike Dowse said on a conference call.
"That's not really in the spirit of the celebration of tennis. It also goes back to the health and wellbeing of not just the spectators but of our players and support staff that help run the tournament."
The US Open is held annually in New York City, which is the hardest hit US city in the coronavirus pandemic and this week revised its official Covid-19 death toll sharply higher to more than 10,000.
The USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, which is the home of the US Open, has even been turned into temporary hospital to help in the battle against the coronavirus.
Last year's US Open drew an all-time attendance record of nearly 740,000 fans and the event is the engine that drives the USTA, which is governing body for the sport in the country.
The French Open, the first Grand Slam to be hit by the spread of the coronavirus, moved the claycourt event to September 20-October 4 from its traditional May start.
"Time is on our side at this point," said Dowse. "Obviously our ambition is to run the tournament."
Dowse said the USTA will make a decision on whether it is safe to stage the US Open after consulting doctors.
"Things are fluid. If the medical experts come back and say here is a foolproof way of running a very safe tournament, unfortunately it has to be without fans, we may reconsider and look at it at this point," said Dowse.
"Today it's just too early to kind of speculate on what the exact specifics will be at that time."