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I’ll miss fans but I’m relishing return and shot at US Open glory: Serena

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Serena Williams has announced her intention to take part in this year’s US Open, while the ATP and WTA Tours have revealed revised schedules and plan to start again on separate dates in August.

Williams endorsing the US Open, which is set to be held behind closed doors between August 31 and September 13 and will be the first major tournament to go ahead amid the coronavirus pandemic, is a huge boost for organisers.

Serena in action

The 23-time Grand Slam champion’s comments are in stark contrast to men’s World No.1 Novak Djokovic saying recently that proposed safety protocols are “extreme” and make it “impossible” to play, while Rafael Nadal, who lifted the men’s trophy at Flushing Meadows last year, has said he has no desire to travel overseas currently.

Speaking remotely at a United States Tennis Association news conference, which was held on Arthur Ashe Stadium, Williams admitted the absence of any fans would be a blow but she is looking forward to playing, having been unable to do so for a number of months due to professional tennis being put on hold because of the health crisis.

She said: “This announcement has been on my mind all day but ultimately I really cannot wait to return to New York and play the US Open 2020.

“I feel the USTA is going to do a really good job of ensuring everything is amazing, perfect and everyone is safe. It’s going to be exciting, it’s been over six months since a lot of us have played professional tennis.

“I’ll certainly miss the fans, don’t get me wrong, just being out there in the New York crowd and hearing everyone cheer, I’ll really miss that. But this is crazy, I’m excited.”

USTA CEO Mike Dowse added: “It’s clear we’re extremely excited and appreciative that she’s committed this early to play the tournament. She transcends tennis and is so much bigger than our sport.”

Stacey Allaster, US Open tournament director, confirmed Williams has had a new court built at her house with the competition’s new hard court surface.

Allaster added: “We’ve made ourselves available to the athletes. Like all athletes, they’ll make their decision at a time that makes sense for them.”

The USTA confirmed there will be no mixed doubles, junior or wheelchair events, while the men’s and women’s doubles have been shrunk from 64 teams to 32.

Linespersons will be present on Arthur Ashe Stadium and Louis Armstrong Stadium but the rest of the courts will have only a chair umpire, with HawkEye – the electronic line calling system – in operation.

Additionally, there will be six ballpersons on the two main courts and three on the others.

The USTA confirmed they are expecting an 80% loss in net operating income this year but Dowse added: “Fortunately we’ve had the financial wherewithal with reserves that we can do this for a one-off year, it’s not a model that can continue.”

The ATP has announced its revised calendar, starting on Friday, August 14, with the Citi Open in Washington while the WTA Tour is provisionally scheduled to begin again on Monday, August 3, at the Palermo Ladies Open in Italy.

Both tours have been suspended since March but are set to resume in late summer, with either reduced fans or none.

The ATP and WTA have both confirmed that the French Open will be pushed back a week, and is now scheduled to take place from September 27-October 11.

ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said: “Our objective has been to reschedule as many tournaments as possible and salvage as much as we can.”

However, Australian tennis player Nick Kyrgios, who labelled US Open organisers “selfish”, has hit out at Gaudenzi.

He wrote on Twitter: “Cheers, you’ve looked after the players during this time. Seriously? How about you have a collaborative effort with us, potato.”

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NBA bubble observations: LeBron James narrative is a bit overstated

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A shortened season was advantageous to a number of older Lakers. Rajon Rondo is 34, Dwight Howard 34, Danny Green 33 and Markieff Morris 31. And it gave a stronger likelihood of injury-prone Anthony Davis staying healthy..

1. I am not here to place a Phil Jackson asterisk on the Lakers’ 17th championship like the Zen Master did on the lockout-shortened, 1999 campaign. But let’s not get carried away with the rhetoric that LeBron James’ fourth title is more worthy because it was done amid 100 days in the NBA bubble, away from family.

James underscored that theme after the Lakers topped the Heat in Game 6 of the NBA Finals last Sunday, stating: “You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t have ups and downs in the bubble. At times I was questioning myself: Should I be here? Is this worth sacrificing my family?”
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In fact, the elderly Lakers saw their chances of winning the title enhanced by the restart format. The season was shut down for four months, allowing James to rest his 35-year-old bones. James didn’t play a regular-season game from March 10-July 30. A total of 71 regular-season games were played in the season, 11 fewer than usual.

A shortened season was advantageous to a number of older Lakers. Rajon Rondo is 34, Dwight Howard 34, Danny Green 33 and Markieff Morris 31. And it gave a stronger likelihood of injury-prone Anthony Davis staying healthy.

The grueling travel for a West Coast team was eliminated. In The Finals alone, a six-game series would have required James’ Lakers to enter the Eastern time zone twice. Wipe out the five-hour flights to and from Miami and replace it with a five-minute bus ride to their Gran Destino resort, and that’s one factor why James looked fresh as a daisy.

Dwight Howard and LeBron James celebrate winning the NBA championship.Getty Images

This wasn’t the usual physical grind of an NBA season. Even on charter flights, air travel takes a massive physical toll. The Lakers’ average age of 29.07 ranked as second-oldest in the league entering the season.

2. It’s not his most important decision, but I hope commissioner Adam Silver changes the dress code for NBA head coaches next season and forbids the sweatsuit look. It felt too much like summer league. Bring back the more dignified jacket-and-tie look. Or at least the jacket.

3. BetMGM sportbook lists the Nuggets at 20/1 (tied for ninth choice) to win the 2021 title. From the Western Conference, the Lakers, Clippers and Warriors are ahead of Denver, which made this year’s conference finals. It’s a young team getting better. Guard Jamal Murray looked like the NBA’s newest superstar. Nikola Jokic is already there. And Michael Porter Jr., selected 14th by the Nuggets in 2018, is going to get there, which will make Knicks fans even more miserable after their team passed on him to take Kevin Knox with the No. 9-overall pick that year. Michael Malone is an elite coach. At 20/1, the Nuggets are a terrific bet.
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4. The 76ers had a miserable bubble result, but Doc Rivers is the right new voice to revive “Trust the Process’’ and get Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris thriving. If the Knicks only knew Rivers would’ve been available …

5. Silver got a lot of credit for shutting out COVID-19 positives, but Chris Paul, president of the Players Association, deserves as much credit for keeping the players unified. “Chris saved the season,’’ one NBA source said in referring to the pause of play after the Kenosha, Wis., shooting of Jacob Blake in August. Don’t think Knicks president Leon Rose didn’t notice the leadership of his former client.

6. With Davis expected to opt out and re-sign with the Lakers, the smart play would be pass on a long-term package and execute a 1-and-1 deal. That would make him a free agent in 2021. He still gets to defend the crown with James, but provides insurance in case LeBron finally succumbs to age in a normal 82-game marathon.
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Lastly, Davis may want his “own” team. James garnered most of the buzz after the Lakers won the title — pundits analyzing whether his fourth ring or “one for the thumb” 2021 journey will stack up against Michael Jordan. It will never be an AD championship as long as James is alongside. The Knicks were once on “The Brow’s” radar. They should have cap space in 2021.

7. The Nets may wind up regretting that they passed on Tyronn Lue, who will now helm the Clippers. As one person close to Lue said recently, “There are many great things you can say about Tyronn, but if you really boil it down to one thing, it’s that he has no ego. And that personality is key with Kyrie [Irving] and KD [Kevin Durant]. Kyrie overthinks. And Tyronn doesn’t think too hard — and that’s not in a negative way.’’

8. Some teams are deciding not to partake in the loosening up of draft-preparation guidelines that will allow scouts to fly to a designated city with other clubs and watch a Pro Day-like live workout. Usually those Pro Days feature meaningless 1-on-0 drills. Some 1-on-1 interviews will be granted but with no guarantees. Some teams believe the COVID-19 risk outweighs the reward. New York has protocols that require two-week quarantines after returning from many states. One executive from a club that won’t attend told The Post the best intel is watching a prospect at his college practice. “Doing your own homework and own background checks are more important,’’ the executive said.

9. Hats off to Nets owner Joe Tsai. Without any events at which to sell them, Barclays Center donated 14,000 pounds of food Thursday from its arena to City Harvest, Food Bank for New York City and The Campaign Against Hunger. During the pandemic, the Nets helped feed 30,000 New Yorkers in need.

10. Reality Check Insights conducted a survey of 1,400 Americans on “Racing and Policing” and included an NBA question to measure if the league has become political. The findings, their research team found, is very much so. The survey showed 75.9 percent of Republicans rated the NBA as either “unfavorable/very unfavorable.’’ Democrats voted the NBA as 13 percent “unfavorable/very unfavorable’’ Independents came in at 37.7 percent.

“The just 13 percent of Republicans who rate the NBA as favorable is very similar to the percent of Republicans who had a favorable opinion of Black Lives Matter,’’ the poll’s researcher Benjamin Leff said. “People’s view of the NBA might be closely tied to the league’s posture on social-justice issues. Just like many parts of our lives, the NBA is now a political issue.’’

According to industry sources, it has become an agonizing issue for Silver after the NBA Finals ratings’ collapse. Silver has talked about less messaging on jerseys and the court next season. One source said: “It’s a balancing act for Adam. When you’re balancing, sometimes you fall.’’

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