US Open Qualifying is Back–But Without Fans

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After a one year Covid induced hiatus, the US Open Qualifying Tournament returns to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center starting Tuesday, August 24th. 128 men and 128 women, world class players ranked outside the top 100 as of mid-July, will play to grab one of the 16 available qualifying spots in their respective main draws. Sometimes called the \best tennis nobody is watching, this moniker will be taken literally this year as the event is closed to fans for the first time in many years.

US Open Qualifying: The Backdrop

The qualifying tournaments are actually a series of 16 separate eight person tournaments which yields a winner who advances to the main draw. While the top 105 or so pros gain direct acceptance to the US Open, these near-greats earn acceptance by winning three matches in four days.

The mix of players includes up and coming teenagers, aging veterans and journeymen pros who despite tremendous talent, often rank outside the main draw cut off.

Normally, the event draws hard core tennis fans who enjoy seeing lesser known players up close and in person. This year, the USTA is not allowing any fans as they are using the space around the grounds of the National Tennis Center to spread out players, staff, employees and more. So, while the qualies usually have a fraction of the fans who attend the actual tournament, this time the players will compete in near obscurity. Die-hard fans can try to capture some viewing via ESPN+, but besides certain personnel, the stands will be empty.

Bonzi Headlines the Men’s Draw

While spectators will be few and far between, the men’s tournament once again promises a great variety of players and potential drama.

France’s Benjamin Bonzi, a 25-year-old who has never advanced to the US Open main draw, enters the qualies as the highest ranked player in the event. He is #94 in the world and the #1 overall seed. Bonzi will have to hold form against world #208 Daniel Masur to escape the first round. Bonzi was outside the top 100 when US Open invitations were announced in mid-July.  If form holds, Bonzi will play Liam #25 seed Liam Broady, fresh off a second round appearance at Wimbledon, to reach the main draw.

Youth and Experience Served

The uniqueness of Grand Slam qualies includes a wide variety of players. Men with various backgrounds will grind for the 16 coveted spots. 42 year old Ivo Karlovic looks to move through his eight man bracket to reach his 17th US Open main draw. Karlovic first reached the main draw in 2003, fellow competitor Ben Shelton, an 18-year-old on the University of Florida team, was born in 2002! Ranked 801 in the world, Shelton nabbed an invite by advancing to the finals of the 18 and under US Championships this summer.

Spain’s Fernando Verdasco, who twice played in the US Open quarterfinals, will play the qualifying event. If the 37-year-old reaches the main draw it will be his 18th US Open and 70th Grand Slam main draw. Yes, 70th.

While Verdasco looks to hold on, local teen star Eliot Spizzirri of Connecticut wants to jump in. Ranked #766 in the world, the 19-year-old Spizzirri who plays for the University of Texas, hopes to ignite a Grand Slam career in his trip to qualifying.

What’s at Stake

Teens, twenty-somethings, as well as veterans in their 30s and 40s all look to capture lightning in a bottle and advance to the main draw. Even losing a main draw first round match yields $75,000 in prize money at the 2021 US Open. In addition to the prize money, the ranking points help players gain entry to more tournaments and possibly more sponsorship opportunities.

After a year’s absence, one of the best tennis events in the world is back – even if nobody is really allowed to watch.

Main Photo from Getty.