Serena Williams in, fans out at U.S. Open in New York City

The U.S. Open is known for its late night matches, VIP fans and raucous crowds. But this year's U.S. Open will be played before empty stands.
Image: Serena Williams serves during the U.S. Open in New York
Serena Williams serves at the U.S. Open in New York on Sept. 2, 2018.Andres Kudacki / AP file

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By David K. Li

The U.S. Open tennis tournament, one of New York City's most prominent annual sports and social events, will still feature Serena Williams this summer — but not fans, officials said Wednesday.

Williams, the sport's greatest female player with 23 Grand Slam titles, told reporters in a virtual meeting that she will play in what's traditionally the last major tournament of the pro tennis season.

The Open is known for its late night matches, VIP fans and raucous crowds at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, Queens. But this year's tournament will be played before empty stands.

"I really cannot wait to return to New York and play the U.S. Open 2020," said Williams, who has won six Open singles titles and two doubles championships.

"I'll certainly miss the fans, don't get me wrong. Just being out there in that New York crowd and hear everyone cheer, I'll really miss that getting me through some of those tough matches."

New York City has had more than 17,000 COVID-19-related deaths, driving New York's death toll higher than any other state.

Other top players have not committed to playing in the U.S. Open

The world's No. 40-ranked singles player, Australian Nick Kyrgios, ripped U.S. tennis officials for going ahead with the Open, tweeting on Monday: "I’ll get my hazmat suit ready for when I travel from Australia and then have to quarantine for 2 weeks on my return."

The Open will be held Aug. 31 to Sept. 13, making it the second major of 2020 season, after the Australian Open in February, before sports world came to an abrupt halt because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"It will be held without fans but you can watch it on TV -- and I'll take that," Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters Wednesday.

The Western & Southern Open, another popular tournament played every August ahead of the U.S. Open, will be moved to New York this year so pro tennis can consolidate operations and lessen player travel.

Those Western & Southern matches, usually played in Mason, Ohio, 25 miles north of Cincinnati, will now be at the King center in Queens on Aug. 20-28.

The players and their traveling parties will stay at TWA Hotel, on the grounds of New York's JFK International Airport, about 10 miles south of the tournament site, officials said.

David Goffin, of Belgium, serves to Daniil Medvedev, of Russia, in the men's final match during the Western & Southern Open tennis tournament on Aug. 18, 2019, in Mason, Ohio.John Minchillo / AP file

And once play begins, most matches will look and sound unlike any other professional tennis matches fans are accustomed to seeing on TV.

U.S. Open matches normally have six ball persons, and that'll be the same for this year's open at the two biggest venues at the King center, the Arthur Ashe and Louis Armstrong Stadiums. But now there will only be three ball person at all matches outside those two sites.

A full complement of officials is usually 11 per match -- the chair umpire and 10 linesmen and women. But at matches outside Ashe and Armstrong Stadiums, there will only be a chair umpire working with the help of an electronic line-calling system, Hawk-Eye Live.

"We just need to make sure we navigate the physical distancing and insure that we keep everyone spread out," U.S. Open Tournament Director Stacey Allaster told reporters.