By Divij Jain ’21
On June 17, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) announced in a press release that the 2020 US Open will be played in Flushing Meadows, New York on the originally scheduled dates despite the spread of COVID-19. Included in the press release were several modifications to the tournament made to ensure the maximum safety for the players and US Open staff. “First and foremost, our decision-making has been guided by the health and well-being of all who will take part in the 2020 US Open,” said USTA President Patrick Galbraith.
Along with the fact that no spectators will be permitted at games, men’s and women’s doubles draws were cut in half, and the singles qualification tournament was eliminated entirely.
There was not a single mention of the wheelchair tennis tournament in the press release. Dylan Alcott, winner of the 2020 Australian Open Wheelchair Quad Singles and number one ranked quad singles player in the world, learned on Twitter that the US Open had canceled the wheelchair competition.
Wheelchair tennis first came into existence in 1976 due to the work of Brad Parks, an American who was paralyzed in a skiing accident. Since then, wheelchair tennis has been taken over by the International Tennis Federation and incorporated into all four Grand Slam events: the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open.
Wheelchair tennis has been played at the US Open every year since 2005, except for the years of the Paralympics. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics have been postponed to 2021, so wheelchair tennis was scheduled to take place at the US Open, unless the entire tournament was canceled. However, the USTA made the decision to hold the US Open but decided to exclude wheelchair tennis events.
Alcott expressed his thoughts on the USTA’s decision on Twitter:
“Just got announced that the US Open will go ahead WITHOUT wheelchair tennis. Players weren’t consulted. I thought I did enough to qualify - 2x champion, number 1 in the world. But unfortunately I missed the only thing that mattered, being able to walk. Disgusting discrimination.”
He also addressed the argument that wheelchair players were at a higher risk should they contract COVID-19: “And please do not tell me I am a ‘greater risk’ because I am disabled. I am disabled yes but that does not make me SICK. I am fitter and healthier than nearly everybody reading this right now. There are no added risks.”
On Australian talk show The Project, Alcott laid out all the reasons for his frustration. Alcott’s primary issue with the decision was that it was a case of discrimination. In the interview, Alcott compared the USTA’s decision with a hypothetical decision to allow the men’s tournament to be played while cancelling the women’s draw. Alcott also expressed his frustration with the fact that players were not consulted by the USTA before they made their decision.
Several wheelchair players, such as Gordon Reid and Andy Lapthorne, immediately supported Alcott’s statements and criticized the USTA’s decision. Three-time Grand Slam men’s singles champion Andy Murray reposted Alcott’s comments, and, along with other high-profile players such as Roger Federer, he attempted to convince the USTA to reconsider their decision. The International Paralympic Committee also publicly condemned the decision. On June 19, two days after the original decision, the USTA released a statement acknowledging that they should have collaborated with wheelchair players before making the decision, and that they would work with players in the coming days to potentially come up with an alternate solution.
On June 24, after “multiple virtual meetings with a group of wheelchair athletes,” the USTA reversed the original decision to cancel the wheelchair tournament. Wheelchair players will be back in Flushing Meadows this year and will follow the same safety procedures as all other players.