Kim Clijsters and Andy Murray are heading back to Flushing Meadows after receiving wildcards for the US Open.

The former champions, who both won their first major title at the New York grand slam, will bolster a line-up that has lost some of its star appeal.

Confirmation of their wildcards came on Thursday from organisers of the tournament, which begins on August 31 and is set to be played behind closed doors.

The tournament will go ahead without its reigning men's champion Rafael Nadal and women's world number one Ash Barty, with both opting out after expressing COVID-19 concerns.

Clijsters has won three US Open titles, in 2005, 2009 and 2010, and announced late last year she would be coming out of retirement after seven years away from top-level tennis.

She played just two tour matches before the coronavirus pandemic caused the WTA Tour to shut down, losing to Garbine Muguruza and Johanna Konta.

The 37-year-old has been playing World Team Tennis for the New York Empire while the regular season has been suspended, producing impressive form she will hope to take onto the bigger stage.

Clijsters has been a wildcard entrant before, famously winning the 2009 title just weeks after returning to action following a two-year retirement in which she became a mother.

Murray, who made his slam title breakthrough when beating Novak Djokovic in the 2012 US Open final, has been battling hip injury problems in recent seasons and has fallen outside the world's top 100, largely because of inactivity.

The 33-year-old sits at 129th in the ATP rankings and, like Clijsters, will play at the Western and Southern Open before the US Open.

That tournament, ordinarily held in Cincinnati, has been moved to Flushing Meadows as tennis builds its bio-secure bubble.

Unusually, the US Open will be the second major of the year rather than the last, Wimbledon having been cancelled and the French Open moved to a September 27 start.

Tennis had a rotten lockdown but now the professional tours are emerging from hibernation. 

The men must wait a fortnight, but in Sicily a number of leading women will, from Monday, take part in the Palermo Open, a minor clay-court event that will face scrutiny like it has never known before. 

Tennis must prove it can stage events responsibly, not least because the sport's reputation took a hit with the calamitous ad hoc Adria Tour. That event saw stars including men's world number one Novak Djokovic, whose brainchild it was, and Grigor Dimitrov hit by coronavirus. 

The ATP and the WTA, governing bodies of the men's and women's tours respectively, will apply stringent rules and demand impeccable player compliance over the coming months. 

They have already seen tennis wiped out in China for the rest of the year, on top of Wimbledon's cancellation, and can ill afford any further momentous setbacks. 

At the end of August, the US Open is due to begin at Flushing Meadows, a behind-closed-doors grand slam.

But with a number of leading players already opting out or showing reluctance to travel during the pandemic period, it would be easier to return a barrage of John Isner serves than to accurately figure how the rest of the tennis year pans out. 

Sicily for starters

Palermo organisers expected Simona Halep, the world number two and reigning Wimbledon champion, to join them, and it was with "great bitterness" that they acknowledged the news she would be staying at home in Romania. 

Halep cited rising COVID-19 cases in her home country and her own "anxieties around international air travel". 

Jelena Ostapenko, Johanna Konta and Svetlana Kuznetsova were among others to pull out, with a number of factors behind the loss of a host of the event's star attractions. 

Arguably, though, the standard of the tennis in the week ahead will pale into insignificance against the success of the tournament from a health and safety perspective. 

One player tested positive for coronavirus after arriving in Palermo, organisers said on Saturday, and was kept away from all others, withdrawing from the tournament. 

The eyes of the tennis world will focus on the modest ASD Country Time Club, not least because a small number of tennis fans will also be allowed entry. 

American trilogy

Can the United States, where over 150,000 have died with coronavirus, provide safe haven for the biggest stars in tennis later this month? 

Authorities are optimistic ahead of a disrupted US hard-court swing getting under way, but there can be no guarantees, despite best efforts. There are three major tournaments in the US in August, each brimming with the biggest names in the game. 

A new WTA event in Kentucky was announced in mid-July, and starts on August 10, with a field boasting Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens and Coco Gauff.  

From Kentucky, the best women's players in the world will head to New York for the Western and Southern Open, relocated to Flushing Meadows from Cincinnati this year in a move to save the tournament. 

That event, scheduled to run from August 21 to 28, is where the elite men make their re-entrance, with no ATP events scheduled until then. 

And the following week sees the US Open get under way at the same venue - all being well. 

Players will be expected to keep to their tournament bubbles throughout, tests will be carried out and players closely monitored. Any slip-ups could spell peril. 

Who's coming back? Who's not?

Halep is skipping Palermo and as of Sunday, August 2, she was not listed for the Western and Southern Open; however, she may play an event in Prague, starting on August 10. 

Given Halep's clear travel concerns, it would be little surprise were she to skip the US Open, which is a decision world number one Ash Barty has already taken. Barty's fellow Australian, Nick Kyrgios, has also chosen not to travel to the United States. 

Great Britain's Andy Murray, who appears keen to head to the States, has suggested a number of leading male players will swerve the US tournaments, yet the likes of Rafael Nadal, Djokovic and Dominic Thiem have entered the Western and Southern Open. 

Any of those players could still pull out, Nadal having notably expressed misgivings about international travel during lockdown. 

But will the temptation to go after another grand slam title at the US Open prove too alluring? Nadal is just one behind Roger Federer's record haul of 20 men's singles slams, with Djokovic having 17 majors to his name. 

Federer is sitting out all this drama, having undergone season-ending knee surgery. 

It comes as no surprise to see Serena Williams, one short of Margaret Court's women's record of 24 singles slams, committing fully to the weeks ahead. 

With no Barty and perhaps no Halep, Williams, who turns 39 next month, may perhaps never have a better opportunity to draw level with Court.

Andy Murray expects others stars to skip the US Open after Ashleigh Barty announced she would not play the tournament.

The US Open is scheduled to start on August 31, but Barty – the world number one – said on Thursday she has decided against playing the grand slam due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The United States has been hit hard by COVID-19, with more than 4.6 million cases and a death toll exceeding 154,000.

Murray, who is planning to play the US Open, said he expected others to opt against playing at Flushing Meadows.

"I think we will see it quite a bit," the three-time major champion said on Thursday.

"I have heard some of the top male players aren't going to play. I would expect that would be the case."

Murray said he held some concerns about the tournament, but believes he will be safe once he arrives.

"It's everyone's personal decision. If they don't feel safe, and don't feel comfortable, travelling and going there and putting themselves and their team at an increased risk, then it's completely understandable," he said.

"All of the players will have some reservations and it's whether or not you feel comfortable taking that risk.

"Like I said the other day, my feeling is once we are inside that bubble they created, we will be okay. It's more the international travel and getting there which I will be a bit concerned about it."

Andy Murray is planning mentally for the US Open next month despite uncertainty over whether the event will go ahead. 

The grand slam is due to begin behind closed doors on August 31, but concerns about the spread of coronavirus in the United States and the potential disruption for players on arrival in New York has cast doubt over it taking place. 

The return of the ATP Tour was delayed further when the Citi Open in Washington, an important event in the hard-court season set to get underway on August 13, was cancelled due to COVID-19. 

A number of players, including Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Simona Halep, have expressed doubts about taking part at the US Open. The United States Tennis Association (USTA) is expected to confirm in the next 10 days whether it will take place. 

Murray, champion at Flushing Meadows in 2012, has his concerns too, but is still preparing to compete. 

"Four or five weeks ago, we were pretty sceptical about it," he said, as per BBC Sport. "But mentally at some stage you need to start preparing and planning for that. 

"If it wasn't happening, my schedule for practising, my rehab, would all be a bit different. Mentally I'm planning for it to go ahead. 

"The issue for us is the travel, so we'll probably be a bit apprehensive getting over there. 

"Hopefully, the US Open can go ahead, and it's okay. But if not, I'm also okay with that. It's not like I'm saying it must go ahead. So long as it's safe for the players then we need to try to get back to competing when it's safe to do so." 

The pandemic has had a significant toll on the 2020 tennis calendar, with no ATP tournaments having been held since February. 

The French Open was moved to later in the year, while Wimbledon was cancelled for the first time since 1945.

Tennis lovers worldwide should have been licking their lips in anticipation of the Wimbledon finals this weekend.

There were two contrasting singles championship matches last year, Simona Halep dismantling Serena Williams before Novak Djokovic got the better of Roger Federer in an epic marathon five-set thriller.

Centre Court crowds and millions watching all over the planet have been treated to classic finals over the years, but there have also been showdowns that many would have expected to see that never transpired.

While there was no 2020 grass-court grand slam this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, we look at a selection of finals that never occurred at the All England Club for one reason or another.

 

Steffi Graf v Martina Hingis

Graf and Hingis met twice at SW19 but the latest round in which they did battle was for a place in the quarter-finals.

German legend Graf was unable to go for a third consecutive Wimbledon title in 1997 due to injury and it was Swiss sensation Hingis who lifted the Venus Rosewater Dish for the first and only time, defeating Jana Novotna.

Novotna gained revenge by dumping Hingis out at the semi-final stage 12 months later after Graf - 12 years older than Hingis - was beaten by Natasha Zvereva in the third round.

Hingis never went beyond the quarter-finals after that, while in 1999 Graf fell to Lindsay Davenport in her last appearance at a tournament she won seven times.

 

John McEnroe v Boris Becker

McEnroe and Becker have shared a commentary box at Wimbledon, but they were never on the opposite side of the net in a final.

A packed crowd would have most certainly been on the edge of their seats to watch two of the most colourful characters in the sport throw everything at each other in pursuit of major glory, but it was not to be.

The closest it came to materialising was in 1989, when American legend McEnroe was denied a place in the final by Stefan Edberg.

Becker beat Edberg in the final to take the title for a third and last time. They may well have met in a final if McEnroe had not missed the 1986 tournament due to taking a break from the sport or suffered a back injury the following year.

 

Justine Henin v Kim Clijsters

Belgium would have surely come to a standstill if Henin and Clijsters had graced Centre Court in a final.

Henin won seven grand slam titles before retiring in 2008 aged only 25 and although she made a comeback in 2010, the former world number one called it a day again the following year as she struggled with an elbow injury.

She quit as a two-time Wimbledon runner-up, while Clijsters - who announced she was making a surprise comeback last year - has never reached the final at SW19.

Semi-final appearances in 2003 and 2006 are as far as Clijsters has been at Wimbledon, and it is a great shame the four-time major singles winner and her compatriot never contested a battle of Belgium for one of the biggest prizes in sport at the peak of their powers.

 

Andy Murray v Rafael Nadal

There have been 24 matches contested by Murray and Nadal, with three of those staged at Wimbledon.

Nadal broke the hearts of Murray fans by beating him on each occasion at his home grand slam, twice in the semi-finals and once in the last eight 12 years ago.

You have to go back to 2011 for Spanish legend Nadal's last appearance in a Wimbledon final, while Murray was crowned champion four years ago but has not played in the tournament since 2017 due to career-threatening hip injury.

While a fit-again Murray is hoping to work his way back to the top and Nadal remains a huge force, time is not on their side and it appears unlikely they will be opponents in a Wimbledon final.

Jamie Murray has revealed a new Battle of the Brits team event will take place in the week before the tennis season properly resumes.

Leading male players from Britain, including Murray's brother, three-time grand slam singles champion Andy Murray, took part in a tournament at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton last month.

Jamie Murray organised that behind-closed-doors event, where British number one Dan Evans secured the top prize, seeing off Kyle Edmund in the singles final.

The all-British competition will now return in a new format, as seven-time doubles grand slam winner Jamie Murray again takes the role of tournament director, with the week-long competition starting on July 27.

The tournament will feature two teams – each made up of six men and six women – with eight matches, including singles, doubles and mixed, taking place each day.

"It is hugely exciting to be bringing Battle of the Brits Team Tennis to the British fans at the end of July," Jamie Murray said on the Lawn Tennis Association website.

"Battle of the Brits Team Tennis will be showcasing the best of British tennis in a unique team competition. We will continue to raise funds for charity during the week of competition."

The WTA Tour is due to resume on August 3 in Palermo, Italy, with the men's ATP Tour set to start up again with the Citi Open in Washington from August 14.

The first grand slam since the coronavirus caused tennis to be suspended in March is set to take place in New York, with the US Open due to begin on August 31.

Wimbledon should have been getting under way on Monday and the queue would have been building all weekend long, a tented village of flag-waving, gin-swigging tennis diehards doing whatever it takes to land a prized ticket.

The practice courts would have been bustling, news conferences with the world's elite players running all day Saturday and into Sunday, and the first bumper delivery of fresh strawberries would have arrived fresh from the fields of Kent.

Elite athletes and their entourages would have been milling around the grounds, before at 10.30am on Monday morning the paying spectators would have been released from their holding bay, many racing straight to the grass bank that is officially named Aorangi Terrace but better known as Henman Hill.

And at 11.30am, the first players would have been walking on court, the championships getting under way. To be there at such a time is a delicious thrill, the waiting over, the grounds teeming, the first points being played, and the anticipation escalating as to what might unfold over the next fortnight.

Yet this year Wimbledon was all quiet across the weekend; thousands did not queue for tickets; the line painters, the stewards, and the ball boys and ball girls stayed at home; and a whole lot more strawberry jam is being produced in England this year than last.

The 2020 championships were cancelled on April 1, the only reasonable decision available to the All England Club amid the coronavirus pandemic, but organisers are already preparing for next year's return.

And from the plot lines that are already emerging, it is clear we can expect a classic Wimbledon.

A farewell to great champions?

There is the very real prospect of tennis losing a huddle of its biggest stars practically all at once, with anyone that was considering bowing out this year surely now giving the glad eye to 2021.

Roger Federer will be just weeks short of his 40th birthday by next year's Wimbledon, and the same applies to Serena Williams, whose sister Venus will already be 41.

Andy Murray will be a relatively young 34 but his body has taken a battering, the Scot desperate to play more grand slams but also realistic enough to know there may not be many left for him. He longs for another Wimbledon, maybe just one more.

Between them, that quartet have won 22 Wimbledon singles titles, and all four could choose the 2021 tournament as their opportunity to bid farewell to the All England Club.

It's going to be an emotional tournament in any case, if we are back to normal, but if there are goodbyes to be said too, the championships promise to be one packed with indelible memories, and so many tears.

The magic numbers

Serena Williams has lost each of the past two Wimbledon women's finals and has been stuck on 23 grand slams since winning the 2017 Australian Open, agonisingly one short of Margaret Court's record.

Could Wimbledon be where Williams matches or even passes Court's total? The American remains the player to beat at Wimbledon, and her hunger for grand slam success has not remotely diminished over time.

There can be little doubt she is playing not purely for the love of it, but because of the thrill of the chase, and Williams might wind up disappointed at the end of her career, still marooned one adrift.

But what a story it would be if Williams were to win another Wimbledon, the last of her thirties. Don't put anything past her.

And the race to finish as the all-time leader on the men's side keeps rolling, a devil of a duty to predict who will come out on top between Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

Another Wimbledon win for any of them could take on momentous significance in that respect.

A new men's Centre Court king, at last?

The last player to win the Wimbledon's men's singles, besides the 'Big Four' of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray, was Lleyton Hewitt in 2002.

And while the era of those four great players dominating in SW19 has been one to treasure, seeing a new champion crowned would be rather special.

There have been nine winners of the women's singles over the same period of time, multiple champions among them but also terrific one-off stories such as Marion Bartoli's triumph, the 17-year-old Maria Sharapova's big breakthrough, Amelie Mauresmo's great achievement, and the unbridled joy of Simona Halep last year.

Certainly there is so much to admire about the quartet that have ruled the men's singles, but a little novelty feels overdue.

Those queueing up to form a new dominant group need to push themselves forward, rather than play a waiting game.

Gauff gunning for major breakthrough

Gauff gunning for major breakthrough

What a revelation Coco Gauff became last year, defeating her great hero Venus Williams and reaching the fourth round, where it took eventual champion Halep to halt the 15-year-old's run.

She dramatically followed up by reaching the third round of the US Open and then round four of the Australian Open at the start of this year.

Between those two grand slams, Gauff also landed her first WTA title, in Linz, Austria, where she became the youngest winner on tour for 15 years.

The American teenager is the real deal, that much is clear, and she has a bright future.

Gauff demonstrated wisdom beyond her years off the court in early June with a terrific, powerful address at a Black Lives Matter rally in her Florida home town of Delray Beach.

May she return many times to Wimbledon.

Dan Evans comprehensively defeated Kyle Edmund 6-3 6-2 to win the inaugural Battle of the Brits exhibition event.

The British number one has enjoyed an unbeaten week at the LTA's National Tennis Centre, including beating Andy Murray in Saturday's semi-final, and was in fine form on Sunday.

Edmund was broken three times during a first set in which Evans' power from the baseline and ability to move forward was the difference maker.

It was a great start to the second set for Edmund, who broke at the first time of asking, only to hand that advantage straight back.

The clinical Evans then won four straight games from 2-2 to wrap up the win in one hour and 18 minutes.

"As Kyle said it was like a tour event and I wasn't sure how it would work out," Evans said. 

"Thanks to everyone who has worked on it, all the players have loved it - that's the truth. Everyone has been raving about the tournament.

"It has been a long week and a great week."

Murray was scheduled to play in the third-place match but withdrew due to a shin injury.

His replacement, James Ward, was beaten 6-3 7-5 by Cameron Norrie. 

Andy Murray missed out on a place in the Battle of the Brits title match as he suffered a semi-final defeat to Dan Evans.

The two-time Wimbledon champion made an impressive start but could not keep up the same pace as he was edged out 1-6 6-3 10-8 by the current British number one.

Murray led 4-1 at one stage in the match tie-break but his composure ebbed away, the Scot particularly angry at one point by the movement of a member of his support team, who was in his eyeline off the court.

"Stop moving back there," Murray shouted.

Evans stuck to his task and a wayward Murray forehand gave the Englishman two match points.

Murray saved the first with a big serve but then saw Evans get lucky on his second opportunity, a backhand that looked to be going out striking the net and bouncing in.

Murray was competing for the first time this year after pelvic problems kept him out of the opening weeks of the season, with tennis then suspended from March due to the coronavirus.

This has been a behind-closed-doors indoor tournament, and Murray has at least had good match practice, playing four opponents in a week, winning twice and only losing to Kyle Edmund and Evans on tie-breaks.

Evans said on Amazon Prime: "He did a lot good in the first set and in the end it came down to the big points.

"I was very lucky on match point but I'm just happy to come through.

"I'm surprised by how well he was executing. Not so much the aggression but I was really surprised, he hardly missed a ball for set one.

"You always know with Andy he's going to come out with some top tennis."

Evans, ranked 28th in the world, thought his own efforts in London would be forlorn when Murray sped away in the tie-break.

"You're thinking the worst of course. I hung in there, but that's how it goes at times," he said. "I'm just really happy to come through."

Andy Murray said he felt his troublesome hip after the former world number one reached the Battle of the Brits semi-finals.

Murray's comeback gathered pace with a 6-3 7-5 win over countryman James Ward at the six-day charity event on Thursday.

The three-time grand slam champion, who had not played competitively since November due to a bruised pelvis and the coronavirus-enforced break, battled warm conditions to advance in Roehampton.

While physically exhausted, Murray said his movement was not affected against Ward.

"It's been tough, it's been unbelievably hot conditions in here," Murray said afterwards at the National Tennis Centre.

"I know it's not the worst situation to be in but usually if you're playing a match you'll find a cold space to go to and build up to the match and dropping your body temperature.

"But here there's no air conditioning allowed, it's pretty hot everywhere and it's quite draining.

"I've been feeling it a little bit and obviously I've played three matches, the last two were a pretty high level, it's been tough but I did quite well.

"Physically, it was a very tough match. I felt my hip a little bit but it did not affect my movement.

"When I played in November at the Davis Cup it was – my hip was sore and I was struggling to move.

"I felt I moved the best I had done in the three matches so that's a positive. I'm delighted I have a rest day tomorrow as I'm very tired."

Andy Murray pushed British number two Kyle Edmund all the way on Wednesday but eventually went down 6-7 (2-7) 7-6 (7-5) 10-5 in the Battle of the Brits.

Murray won his opening singles match at the six-day charity event – organised by his brother Jamie – against Liam Broady on Tuesday.

But despite taking the opener at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton, the former world number one was unable to make it two victories from two.

Instead, it was Edmund, who defeated James Ward in his opening match, who secured his place in the semi-finals when Murray looped a backhand return out of play.

"Finding a way really, getting through it. It wasn't like I was down [in breaks] but I was down after the first set," Edmund told Amazon Prime following his triumph.

"Then there was a period where it was scrappy a bit, a few errors from me and you could tell he was slowly building.

"I just told myself to hang in and give myself a chance. He just puts balls in the court, he has very good anticipation, uses the area of the court very well, uses different speeds.

"Everyone wants to win and do their best. You are still playing Andy Murray, a guy who has won so much."

Despite his defeat, Murray can still make the semi-finals should he overcome Ward in his next outing.

 

Andy Murray was unsurprised by Novak Djokovic and others contracting coronavirus after the Adria Tour, while saying it was a bad look for tennis.

World number one Djokovic and his wife Jelena tested positive for COVID-19, with Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric and Viktor Troicki also contracting coronavirus.

Djokovic was a driving force behind the creation of the Adria Tour, which took place in Serbia and Croatia in front of large crowds and saw players shaking hands despite concerns over social distancing, and the 17-time grand slam champion has faced widespread criticism.

After beating Liam Broady at the Battle of the Brits exhibition event on Tuesday, Murray said he was unsurprised to see the virus spread at the Adria Tour.

"I hope that him and his wife are well and that they recover and that their families and everyone who's affected by that event is healthy and safe," he told a news conference.

"In hindsight, it's not something obviously that should've gone ahead, it's not surprising really that the players and how many people have tested positive when you see the scenes that were going on there, seeing some of the images and the videos at the players' party and the kids' day. There was no social distancing and things like that in place."

Murray added: "I've seen some people have said that maybe this sort of puts the US Open in doubt which it may well do, but the measures and protocols that they have in place so far the USTA [United States Tennis Association] is completely different than what was going on in Serbia and Croatia.

"Obviously there'll be no fans for a start. I think all of the players now will be extremely aware that we can all be affected by this, coronavirus doesn't care who we are or what we do and we need to respect it and respect the rules."

Murray, who plans to play the French Open and US Open if they go ahead, said the Adria Tour could be a warning for tennis.

"It's something that would've been avoidable and certainly in this country I think we're all aware of how serious the virus is," he said.

"I don't think it's been a great look for tennis, but like I said the only positive that can come from something like this is that we make sure that up until it's safe to do so we have these measures in place, like social distancing and having no fans and things at the event to limit the risk or reduce the risk as much as possible."

There have been more than 9.3 million confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide, with the death toll exceeding 479,000.

Andy Murray expects to find it tough going against Kyle Edmund in his second match despite making a promising start to his campaign at the Battle of the Brits event. 

In his first competitive action since appearing at the Davis Cup Finals in November, the three-time grand slam winner recorded a 6-2 6-2 win over Liam Broady on Tuesday. 

Murray admitted beforehand that he had little chance to practice before taking part in the exhibition tournament at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton, stating before his opener that his main aim was to "get through" it with his body holding up.

The Scot has been troubled with a pelvic injury but, with his serve working well and showing the occasional glimpse of his undoubted quality, he proved far too strong for Broady. 

Still, he refused to get too carried away with his performance, describing it as "okay" during his post-match interview with Amazon Prime Video.

"I served pretty well, I thought I served well throughout the match. A lot of free points there – I've been working on my serve quite a lot," Murray said.

"I didn't hit the ball that well from the back of the court, quite a lot of errors and my balance didn't feel great. I wasn't timing the ball very well, but it was alright. 

"For a first match in seven months, I've not been practising much and not even doing that well in practice matches, it was alright."

However, Murray is expecting to have problems on Wednesday when he attempts to deal with Edmund, who began his campaign by beating James Ward. 

"He's fit, hitting a big ball, so I'd be surprised if I manage to come through that one," the world number 129 said of his next opponent.

"If I serve like I did today and hit the ball better a little bit cleaner from the back of the court, I'll give myself some chances. But it will be tough."

The event, organised by Jamie Murray, is following strict health guidelines as it is taking place amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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