Even as COVID cases rise, US Open, other events welcome fans

Aug 30, 2021, 1:51 PM | Updated: 2:12 pm
Tennis fans watch as Ricardas Berankis, of Lithuania, serves to Diego Schwartzman, of Argentina, du...

Tennis fans watch as Ricardas Berankis, of Lithuania, serves to Diego Schwartzman, of Argentina, during the first round of the US Open tennis championships, Monday, Aug. 30, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

NEW YORK (AP) — Full-throated shouts and hearty applause returned to the U.S. Open tennis tournament Monday, bursts of sound that offered some form of reaction to nearly each and every action. Also back: lengthy lines to get through the gates and to buy something to eat or drink.

A year after spectators were banned entirely from Flushing Meadows because of the coronavirus pandemic, lending a dystopian feel to a normally lively event, 100% capacity is once again being permitted — proof of vaccination needed; no masks required — at this and other sports events.

College football resumed Saturday, with tends of thousands on-hand for such as matchups as Illinois vs. Nebraska or Hawaii vs. UCLA. The NFL is letting its teams sell every ticket for the regular season; its first Sunday is Sept. 12.

Makes it tough to tell there’s been a recent surge in COVID-19 cases thanks to the highly contagious delta variant. Ready or not, our fun and games are moving forward, with full stadiums and, in some cases, few protocols.

“Playing without fans here last year was brutal,” 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens told the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium after beating Madison Keys in three sets in a rematch of their all-American final four years ago.

As for Monday’s varying degrees of noise, including what she termed “calling out at random times”?

“We missed all of that,” Stephens said.

Yes, we all did.

Having an audience there makes it all mean more — to those competing and to those watching, who are more than just part of the scenery.

They’re a character in the show.

“After all, that’s what we’re here for. We try to put on the best performance possible for them,” said Lloyd Harris, a South African scheduled to play Tuesday. “For me, the more people I play in front of, the bigger the audience, the better tennis I play.”

People in the seats add to the to the soundtrack, as Stephens noted, but also to the pageantry, to the swirl of emotions for everyone involved, providing a human element at a time when that is disappearing in many ways. Just one example: This U.S. Open is the first without a single line judge on any court, just chair umpires assisted by an electronic line-calling system.

Elsewhere, though, folks were everywhere.

They ordered the Honey Deuce, touted as the U.S. Open’s signature cocktail, served for $20 in a souvenir glass.

They stood along the walkway between Court 13 — where Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic defeated France’s Benoit Paire — and Court 14 — where Canada’s Leylah Fernandez eliminated Croatia’s Ana Konjuh.

A particularly boisterous bunch at Court 5 offered support for Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman, twice a U.S. Open quarterfinalist.

“The event changed 100 percent. It’s a totally different feeling,” Schwartzman said, adding that it “also feels a little bit weird” to be at the first Grand Slam tournament in more than 18 months with full capacity.

Every so often, a burst of sound could be heard from one of the 16 courts hosting action.

There’s something significant about the shared experience that’s simply absent when we’re atomized, fragmented, forced to be apart from each other, as we’ve been lately. Sports, along with other forms of entertainment, offer a measure of escape from day-to-day life.

Perhaps that’s why Americans are going to Broadway shows, movie theaters, music concerts. All despite COVID-19 deaths running at more than 1,200 a day nationwide, the highest level since mid-March. New cases per day are averaging over 155,000, returning to where things were in January.

That’s why there was a hint of worry on the part of Juan Manuel Gómez, a fan from Guadalajara, Mexico, who watched French Open runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas practice Monday.

“We know there was risk, but we think it was worth taking,” said Gómez, whose wife, Lety, shot video of Tsitsipas with her phone.

Compared to visiting Times Square during their vacation with their two sons, ages 9 and 13, she said, “We feel safe here,” knowing spectators needed to show proof of vaccination to get in.

According to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear a mask in outdoor settings, even among crowds — unless they can’t avoid close contact with unvaccinated people. (The vaccination requirement doesn’t apply to players, about half of whom have gotten shots.)

Pat James, a 65-year-old retiree from Mendham, New Jersey, who was with her friend and neighbor, Barbara Ruggeri, was thrilled when the U.S. Tennis Association was pushed by the New York mayor’s office to add the requirement last week.

“Actually, I didn’t have apprehension so much about the COVID as I did about some other issues, like terrorism,” James said, after posing for a photo with the Unisphere from the 1964 New York World’s Fair that sits not far from one of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center’s main entrances. “I had a little trepidation last night. But we’re both vaccinated. When we got into a crowd, we wore our masks. I just wish people would get vaccinated, so this would end.”

Even if no one knows when “this” really will end, the hustle and bustle of our lives appears to be on its way back.

Certainly for two weeks in Flushing Meadows, anyway. A far cry from 2020.

“You cannot compare the atmosphere. It’s much better. You feel the energy. You feel alive on court,” said Simona Halep, a two-time Grand Slam champion who autographed hats and tennis balls thrust at her by front-row fans after a victory over Camila Giorgi at the Grandstand. “So, yeah, hopefully we’ll stay like that forever now.”

___

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

A cargo ship is sailing on the Rhine in Duesseldorf, Germany, Monday, Aug. 15, 2022. Due to the ong...
Associated Press

Europe drought: German industry at risk as Rhine falls

BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s main industry lobby group warned Tuesday that factories may have to throttle production or halt it completely because plunging water levels on the Rhine River are making it harder to transport cargo. Water levels on the Rhine at Emmerich, near the Dutch border, dropped by a further four centimeters (1.6 inches) […]
3 hours ago
Associated Press

Memphis hospital locks down while treating shooting victims

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A hospital was on lockdown early Tuesday while treating multiple victims of a shooting involving two crime scenes in in Memphis, Tennessee, local media reported. A sedan was left riddled with bullet holes outside Methodist North hospital. Memphis Police also taped off the scene at a gas station several miles away […]
3 hours ago
A Sri Lankan traditional dancer carries a decorative umbrella as the crew of Chinese scientific res...
Associated Press

Chinese navy ship docks in Sri Lanka, stokes worry in India

HAMBANTOTA, Sri Lanka (AP) — A Chinese navy vessel arrived at a Beijing-built port in southern Sri Lanka on Tuesday, after its port call was earlier delayed due to apparent security concerns raised by India. The Yuan Wang 5 sailed into the Hambantota port and was welcomed by Sri Lankan and Chinese officials in the […]
3 hours ago
Associated Press

Germany: 1 dead after self-driving BMW veers into traffic

BERLIN (AP) — Police in Germany said Tuesday that one person has died and nine were seriously injured after a self-driving test car veered into oncoming traffic, triggering a series of collisions involving four vehicles Monday afternoon. A spokesman for police in the southwestern town of Reutlingen said the electric BMW iX with five people […]
3 hours ago
Associated Press

Gunmen kill 2 policemen escorting polio workers in Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Gunmen riding on motorcycles opened fire on Tuesday on police escorting a team of polio workers in northwestern Pakistan, killing two policemen, authorities said. None of the polio workers were harmed, said Mohammad Imran, a local police official. The four polio workers and their police escort were all traveling on motorcycles. […]
3 hours ago
Microsoft Corp co-founder Bill Gates attends a meeting with South Korea's National Assembly Speaker...
Associated Press

Gates eyes partnership with South Korea over global health

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Bill Gates on Tuesday called for South Korea to further step up in international efforts to prevent infectious diseases like COVID-19 as he stressed the need for the world to be better prepared for the next pandemic. Speaking to South Korean lawmakers in Seoul, Gates called for stronger international cooperation, […]
3 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Vaccines are safe if you are pregnant or breastfeeding

Are you pregnant? Do you have a friend or loved one who’s expecting?
...
CANVAS ANNUITY

Best retirement savings rates hit 4.30%

Maximize your retirement savings with guaranteed fixed rates up to 4.30%. Did you know there is a financial product that can give you great interest rates as you build your retirement savings and provide you with a paycheck for life once you retire? It might sound too good to be true but it is not; this product is called an annuity.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Update your child’s vaccines before kindergarten

So, your little one starts kindergarten soon. How exciting! You still have a few months before the school year starts, so now’s the time to make sure students-to-be have the vaccines needed to stay safe as they head into a new chapter of life.
Even as COVID cases rise, US Open, other events welcome fans