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Friday, October 22, 2021
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Pages: Vaccine + tennis shot

Match Point

The year was 1999 when my dad Bunny and I visited New York to watch the US Open. For two weeks nonstop, our eyes enlarged gazing at Andre Agassi winning the trophy and Serena Williams defeating Martina Hingis to collect her first major prize at the age of 17.

Hundreds of thousands of spectators — including our companions Fabby Borromeo and his dad, the late Kits Borromeo — trooped to Flushing Meadows as we all cramped maskless and side-by-side, far from knowing about the Covid-19 pandemic that would terrorize us two decades later.

Tomorrow, the US Open begins anew and an estimated 750,000 fans are expected to flood the 14-day-long tournament.

Yes, it’s just like the Pacquiao-Ugas brawl in Las Vegas where 17,438 screaming fans were in attendance. Same with Wimbledon last July. While the London-based grass court event was canceled in 2020, this year’s different: a full 100 percent crowd was welcomed. This included the Centre Court’s 14,979 capacity and the No. 1 Court with 12,345 seats.

At the US Open, it’s the same mantra: “The US Open is fully open!”

But there’s a catch. While the officials previously announced that the spectators can roam around the 46.5-hectare grounds freely, a new ruling just emerged yesterday: No entry for the unvaccinated.

“Given the continuing evolution of the Delta variant and in keeping with our intention to put the health and safety of our fans first,” said the statement, “the U.S.T.A. will extend the mayor’s requirement to all U.S. Open ticket holders 12 years old and older.”

No proof of vaccination, no entry.

The US Open officials were concerned about the “indoor” court. The facility has 22 outdoor courts, but the 23,771-seater Arthur Ashe Stadium (the world’s largest tennis arena) has a retractable roof that closes during bad weather.

This is a good move on the part of the organizers. My question: How about the players? If all the fans are subjected to this ruling, aren’t the players supposed to also comply?

No. Just like the Olympics, the athletes who hit tennis shots are not forced to get vaccine shots. Players are tested upon arrival and get tested again every four days thereafter. If a player tests positive, he/she has to withdraw.

Stefanos Tsitsipas has declined to get the jab. And there’s Novak Djokovic. He has never given a categorical yes-or-no answer when repeatedly asked if he’s vaccinated.

“I feel like that should be always a personal decision, whether you want to get vaccinated or not,” said Djokovic. “So, I’m supportive of that. Whether someone wants to get a vaccine or not, that’s completely up to them. I hope that it stays that way.”

The Serb won the first three major singles titles in 2021 and will become only the third male player after Don Budge (1938) and Rod Laver (1962 and 1969) to capture the “Grand Slam” if he beats seven players and collects the trophy on Sept. 12.

Still, at the US Open, it’s clear that there’s a double standard at play: One (stricter) ruling for the fans; another for the players.

Lucky for No-vax Djokovic.


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