‘Social distance ambassadors’ to monitor players at U.S. Open

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Forty “social distance ambassadors” will monitor the U.S. Open grounds to make sure players and others are avoiding close contact and wearing face coverings — the U.S. Tennis Association bought 500,000 masks to distribute — as part of efforts to avoid a coronavirus outbreak during the fan-free Grand Slam tournament.

“We’re trying to leave nothing to chance,” Billie Jean King National Tennis Center chief operating officer Danny Zausner said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press, “and make it as stress-free for the players as possible.”

The USTA announced Tuesday that one person, who is not a player, turned up positive for COVID-19 out of 1,400 tests administered in the controlled environment set up for the U.S. Open and another tennis tournament preceding it at the same site in New York.

The Western & Southern Open, moved this year from Cincinnati because of the pandemic, begins Saturday. The U.S. Open starts Aug. 31.

Two tests are taken 48 hours apart when a player or member of an entourage arrives at one of the two official hotels or one of the private homes the USTA made available for rent on Long Island. (Eight players chose the private housing option.)

The person, who is asymptomatic, came up positive on the second test and will be isolated for 10 days. Contact tracing will attempt to determine who might have been exposed.

“We expected this to happen,” USTA CEO Mike Dowse said during a conference call with reporters. “Mathematically, we expected to have a positive, if not more than one. So we did anticipate this and we have put very specific protocol in place to prevent this from spreading broadly. … Our No. 1 priority is to take care of this person first, and secondly to prevent the spread from going any further.”

Once the U.S. Open begins, a player testing positive would be kicked out of the tournament.

“This is all about mitigation of risk, lessening the exposure,” tournament director Stacey Allaster said.

She said about 350 players — roughly 90% of the field — already are in the “bubble.”

Among the elements of the USTA’s plan, described to the AP by Zausner:

— Similar to the on-site ambassadors, who will be split into two shifts of 20, monitors at the hotels will make sure people don’t leave their rooms for 24 hours after an initial COVID-19 test. “If they come down for whatever reason — because they’re young — a security person is there to say, `Excuse me. You need to be upstairs,’ and send them back up to their room,” Zausner said.

— Instead of individual cars ferrying players and others between the hotels and tournament site, about 60 buses will be used, filled to 50% capacity. One person will sit by each window and the adjacent seat will remain empty.

— Every room on the 40-acre USTA campus was measured and had its air flow analyzed. Some rooms were shuttered, others outfitted with filtration systems to rotate air and “meet hospital criteria,” according to Zausner.

— Arthur Ashe Stadium locker rooms that normally hold up to 300 people are limited to 30 at a time — and only players, not coaches or other entourage members. And players’ access will be restricted to 15 minutes or so, tied to match and practice schedules. “That’s a big sacrifice for (players). They’re used to hanging out in the locker room, the lounges in the locker room, spending quality time in there with other players,” Zausner said. “And that just can’t happen under this scenario.”

— Most training and massage tables were moved from locker rooms to outdoors, such as under the viewing gallery for practice courts.

— The player dining room’s capacity was reduced from 300 to 50; hundreds of rented tables and chairs were set up on the Ashe promenade.

— Sixty-four suites in the main arena, each of which normally generates hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual revenue, are being assigned as personal lounges to the 32 women and 32 men who are singles seeds for the U.S. Open.

“For the players, this has to feel like a U.S. Open — like, even better than last year’s U.S. Open,” Zausner said. “The only caveat is that we’re building it for 350-plus players but not 800,000-plus fans.”

Nakashima takes first ATP Tour title at San Diego

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SAN DIEGO – Brandon Nakashima earned his first ATP Tour victory in his hometown, beating friend and fellow Southern Californian Marcos Giron 6-4, 6-4 in the San Diego Open final.

“It’s super-special, something you dream of, but to have it happen in my hometown with all my friends and family here, it’s a moment I’ll never forget,” said Nakashima, who had two previous finals appearances. “I hope there are many more moments like this to come.”

Nakashima, a 21-year-old who grew up in San Diego and trained extensively at the event’s site as a junior, clinched the opening set in only 30 minutes. The second set, filled with lengthy rallies, took nearly an hour.

Giron, the No. 5 seed and former NCAA title winner from UCLA, wasn’t able to fend off Nakashima’s persistent ground strokes and well-placed serves. Nakashima had eight aces, six in the first set.

Serving at 5-4 in the second set, Nakashima tallied the match’s deciding two points when Giron pushed an easy volley into the net, followed by Nakashima’s second-serve ace.

He earned $93,090, about half of what received for reaching the third round of the U.S. Open in early September.

Nakashima, who was ranked No. 69 on the ATP Tour, moved up to 48, his highest ranking in nearly three years on tour. Despite the loss, Giron moved up to 53 from 58.

Not only was the singles title claimed by an American, the doubles title also taken by an American duo as the second-seeded pair of Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow defeated Australians Jason Kubler and Luke Saville 7-6 (5), 6-2.

The $612,00 event was held at Barnes Tennis Center, which next hosts the $757,900 WTA 500 San Diego Open, Oct. 8-16. That will feature 16 of the world’s top-ranked 20 women pros, led by No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

Frances Tiafoe lifts Team World to 1st Laver Cup win

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LONDON — The last to arrive, befitting his reputation in the locker room, Frances Tiafoe strutted into the post-match news conference after clinching Team World’s Laver Cup victory over Roger Federer’s star-studded Team Europe and shouted, “Champs are here!”

Then the 24-year-old from Maryland joined his teammates at the table where the silver trophy was resting Sunday night, put down a bottle of water, pulled a Budweiser out of his red jacket and smiled that wide smile of his.

Performing with the same infectious showmanship and crunch-time success he displayed en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open earlier this month, Tiafoe staved off four match points and came back to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 1-6, 7-6 (11), 10-8, giving Team World its first triumph in five editions of an event founded by Federer’s management company.

“I don’t like losing,” said Federer, a 20-time major champion whose final match before retirement was a loss alongside Rafael Nadal in doubles against Tiafoe and Jack Sock on Friday night. “It’s not fun. It just leaves not the best taste.”

When Tsitsipas put a forehand into the net to end Sunday’s contest – and the three-day competition – Tiafoe dropped his racket and fell to his back on the court, where teammates piled atop him. After getting on his feet, Tiafoe cupped a hand to his ear, asking spectators for more noise, then pointed to his chest and yelled, “I’m him! I’m him!”

“When it becomes a circus out here, and I’m just using the crowd and acting like a little kid and having a bunch of reactions … I end up playing really well and I start building momentum off it,” Tiafoe said. “I’m able to play and function in that better than my opponents, it seems.”

Using the nickname other players gave Tiafoe to reflect the way he embraces big moments, Team World captain John McEnroe said: “Frances is `Prime Time.’ He loves this stuff.”

McEnroe had been 0-4 while leading his squad against his former playing rival, Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg; both indicated they would be back for the 2023 Laver Cup in Vancouver, but that might be their last go-round.

This one served as a celebration of Federer and the 41-year-old Swiss star’s career.

Tiafoe responded with a quip when asked whether he might owe Federer some form of “I’m sorry” for beating him in his finale or for defeating his team, which also included Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for a total of 66 major singles titles. That, incidentally, is 66 more than Team World, a collection of 20-somethings (Sock turned 30 on Saturday).

“”I’m not going to apologize to him. He’s got a lot to apologize for after the last 24 years – after beating everybody on the tour,” said Tiafoe, who went 0-3 against Federer in singles head-to-head. “I will say thank you for having me in this amazing event, what he’s done for the game. He’s a class act. Happy to know him, happy to call him a friend, happy to call him a colleague, and best wishes in his second act. But I will not apologize.”

Team Europe entered Sunday at O2 Arena with an 8-4 lead; the first team to 13 points would win.

Each match on Day 3 was worth three points, and Team World went ahead thanks to a pair of victories by Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old from Canada. He beat Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (3), after partnering with Sock to edge Murray and Matteo Berrettini 2-6, 6-3, 10-8 in doubles.

Tiafoe then made it 13-8, but it wasn’t easy.

He went a tournament-record 8-0 in tiebreakers at Flushing Meadows this month and was just as resilient Sunday.

“It’s been a long time that Frances has been playing the big guys close and losing a lot of close battles. It’s great to see lately he’s been winning,” said Taylor Fritz, an American who is the same age as Tiafoe and has known him for years. “It’s about time that he steps up and the matches go the other way. Today was a joke.”

That’s because Tiafoe was a single point from losing to Tsitsipas four times in their second-set tiebreaker, but somehow got through that. Then, at 4-all in the concluding match tiebreaker – first to 10, win by two – Tiafoe sprinted from behind the baseline to near the net and barely got to a drop shot by Tsitsipas, somehow lunging to flick an angled winner.

While most of the 16,365 fans went wild, Tiafoe went around the net and stood still, hands on his hips, relishing the atmosphere.

“We put him in the slot that he was in today for a reason,” said Team World’s Tommy Paul, another 24-year-old American, “and he stepped up for us, big time.”