Sports News

From field hospital to Grand Slam, Flushing Meadows welcomes back U.S. Open

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bruised - but not broken - New York City is bringing back Grand Slam tennis.

FILE PHOTO: Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York, speaks during a news conference at New Bridges Elementary School, ahead of schools reopening, in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in New York, U.S., August. 19, 2020. Jeenah Moon/Pool via REUTERS

Just five months ago part of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center was transformed into a temporary 350-bed hospital to handle an overflow of patients as COVID-19 cases spiked across the city, then the epicenter of the virus in the U.S.

Now, the venue is preparing to host the crown jewel event of American tennis, after the city crushed the COVID-19 curve.

“New York City went through hell, but we’re coming back stronger,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a written statement to Reuters. “Hosting the U.S. Open in the very spot we created an emergency field hospital is a testament to the incredible progress New Yorkers have made in the fight against COVID-19.”

New York City has suffered more than 23,000 COVID-19 deaths since the start of the outbreak, according to data compiled by Reuters, with more than 236,000 confirmed cases.

But its case count has dropped to a seven-day average of less than 150 according to city data released last week, down from more than 5,000 cases per day from the peak in early April, as the five boroughs worked to contain the virus.

De Blasio is urging New Yorkers to continue to wear face masks and maintain social distancing as the run-up to the U.S. Open - a week-long social circuit that usually sees current and ex-players alike mingle with sponsors and journalists at flashy and crowded Manhattan affairs - took on a new flavour.

The players - many of whom also competed in the Western & Southern Open in Flushing Meadows this week - stayed behind closed doors, in accordance with the health and safety restrictions, as travellers from more than 30 different U.S. states are required to quarantine upon arrival in New York.

“To get to this point where we are now hosting live tennis at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center... is a truly remarkable accomplishment,” USTA Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director Mike Dowse told Reuters.

The U.S. Open begins at 11 a.m. ET (1500 GMT) at Flushing Meadows, Queens, on Monday.

Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Ken Ferris