US Open: To be in NYC and not be able to walk around is so sad, writes Sumit Nagal
Over the last two weeks, I have done six tests for the coronavirus, including two after entering the US Open bubble. There is one more coming up today (Sunday). Such are the times!
I landed in New York last Monday after flying from Frankfurt. Before that, I had to get a confirmation from the US government that we are tennis players and that we are allowed to travel. Once that was done, the officials at the airport knew that tennis players were arriving for the US Open. I then took a private car to check into the designated hotel for the tournament.
The hotel is a bubble—there are demarcated borders that you cannot cross. You can go out only to go to the tennis courts at Flushing Meadows. If you break the bubble, there could be penalties which could also lead to the organisers disqualifying you. The rules are extreme here, but it makes sense.
After checking in, we had to first undergo the test for Covid-19 and we weren’t allowed to get out of our rooms till we got the results. It was like 24 hours of isolation. After those 24 hours, I got my accreditation. Once that was done, I went to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre for practice and a session with the physio. I had my lunch and some light dinner there. The dining area at the premises is the same as before and there is another one at the fan park. There is also a dining area at the hotel. But there are very few people around these areas. A lot of people are ordering food in.
We have the same locker rooms. There are three-four gym centres now, and because there are fewer players this time around it makes it easier to get things done. I have to wear my mask literally everywhere and every time except when I’m on court or working out at the gym. But contrary to perception, things are otherwise normal. Of course, there is no crowd and you cannot chill in locker rooms for a long time. Other than that, everything has been calm and easy-going.
What does feel weird, however, is staying in New York and not being able to head out. It’s so, so abnormal. NYC is one of my favourite places on this planet, and not being able to see it this year makes me sad. I am missing it dearly—to be free to walk around and eat late at night in a place that is always shining!
There are a lot of games for players to enjoy. There’s a game centre at the hotel and around the courts (with mini golf, a basketball court, pool tables, a football area, etc). I haven’t got the time to play much, because it’s been hectic here for me.
In some ways, this situation is not easy. The hotel is around an hour away. Mind you, we have to book our transport and fill a questionnaire each time we want to go to the courts. So let’s say you have a practice session at 1pm, for that you have to leave the hotel at 11am. You finish your first practice, take a break, move on to the second one and then head to the physio. By the time you finish all that and take the transport to get back to the hotel, it’s already 6-7pm. So it’s not like there’s plenty of time to kill here and make use of all those activities. I have mostly been sitting in my room and playing some League of Legends.
This is a Slam, everyone is serious and especially now not too many people are looking forward to chilling with each other. You have to respect that and kind of mind your own business.
If there is any sport or championship to be played, I think this bubble mechanism could work. It surely feels different but they are trying to host a Grand Slam, which is not easy when you have over thousand people in a single hotel. So it makes sense that they have all these precautions in place and I’m happy that people are pulling this off.
(Sumit Nagal, ranked 122 in the world, is the only Indian player in the singles draw of the 2020 US Open. He will take on American Bradley Klahn in the first round. He spoke with Rutvick Mehta)