Former USC men’s tennis coach and current Jack Kramer Club GM Peter Smith recently spent three weeks in the US Open bubble as the coach to Southern California players Steve Johnson and Sam Querrey. Smith talks about what that experience was like, as told to Steve Pratt:
When I first got to the airport for my trip to the US Open, it was with some trepidation.
I actually thought the toughest past of the trip was going to be the flight, and then the ride to the hotel. But it all went really well, and everything was fine once I landed. After I checked into the hotel I was escorted to my room, and it was very clear to me that the USTA was not messing around.
TESTING FOR CORONAVIRUS
I had missed the COVID test for that day since I arrived after 8:30 p.m., and told I wasn’t allowed to leave my room, with the exception of taking the COVID test. I woke up really early the next morning at 6:30 a.m. and, since I knew there was a 24-hour turnaround time, I wanted to be able to go to the practice court and be with Steve. I took the nasal test and the anti-body test. It was amazing to be told to go back to my room and not leave the room. That was a very different feeling. We are always on the go, and especially in New York City, it was so strange.
I waited for my results, which came back after 25 hours, and I got a negative result. That was such a huge relief. If the test comes back positive, then you have to stay in your room for 10 days. I could not stop thinking about what effect that would have on a lot of other people. You quickly realize this is not just about me.
ON THE US OPEN GROUNDS
We were given a badge-like credential and on it is a microchip and it tracks you wherever you go. If you are positive, then the contact tracing really comes into play. Because of the chip you can tell who you were next to, or how close you were to someone. Once you understand that, you are really aware of what is going on around you.
They have people posted at all the entrances and exits as you come and go from the venue. You get on the bus, and you get scanned pretty much everywhere you go. We can complain about the rules, but the rules are there for a reason. It really is just this huge event and there have been one or two positives, and those are good reminders to us all that we have to wear our masks and have social distancing. I’m on week three here and I’m getting more and more used to wearing a mask. You are happy when you get back into your room because you can take off your mask.
A UNIQUE EXPERIENCE
Some of those that arrived in New York played the Western & Southern Open, and others were just there for the two weeks of training because it’s so incredible just to be there and hitting and training. You are hitting with guys from Russia or Italy, and it has just been a really enjoyable experience. Usually when you go to a Grand Slam you are there for two or three days, but this is over two weeks. It has been pretty amazing.
It was really weird watching the player introductions at the Western & Southern. At least two players – who are pretty well-known – actually waved to the crowd, except there was no crowd. I think it’s just a habit and we kind of chucked at it. There was literally no one on that one side of the stadium and they still waved.
SHUT OFF FROM THE WORLD
When you are at the courts you really don’t know what’s going around the rest of the world. Late at night I have a habit of going back to the hotel and watching SportsCenter and we really got to see what was going on related to civil unrest, which did affect us because Steve and Austin (Krajicek) were in the Western & Southern doubles semifinals. My personal reaction was, yes, we need to have a pause and do the right thing and stand with all the other athletes on this. It made sense to me.
A WHOLE DIFFERENT VIBE
When the US Open draw came out there was a lot of anticipation and excitement to find out who you will play. When we saw John’s (Isner) name on the draw, Steve just chuckled. They’ve played nine times. For me being a college coach, I just felt so much pride because I was going to get to witness this matchup between two of these great college tennis players going at it.
When the match started, I looked around and it was so bizarre because there were more people on the court than off the court. I counted about 14 people on the court and eight in the stands. Louis Armstrong is one of the most beautiful courts I have ever been on, and that includes Ashe and Center Court at Wimbledon. I know I thought about how epic a match that would have been on Ashe in a packed arena with two Americans going on it like that, it would have been great. It was close, but Stevie stayed engaged the entire match and never lost his serve and got the win.
Unfortunately, Sam lost in the first round on Tuesday. His opponent played inspired tennis. On Wednesday, Stevie lost to Berankis, who served great and is always a tough out.
Overall, it was a very memorable 2020 US Open experience, and one that I hope we never have to go through again with all the medical protocols and life in the bubble.