2020 US Open Virtual Welcome Dinner: Denis Kudla in the bubble
Our Virtual Welcome Dinner on Sunday, August 30th was very interesting and a lot of fun. Watch it now for free to see Denis's video tours of the venue or read on to find out what he said!
This transcription has been edited slightly for clarity and readability.
ATP player Denis Kudla joins the show
Andrew Chmura: Alright, so Denis is going to walk us around the venue a bit using some videos he took. There's going to be room for a few questions, too. Hey Denis! There he is, how are you doing, Denis?
Denis Kudla: How's it going?
Life in the player bubble
AC: Hey man. How's the hotel there? Tell us what it's like to be in the hotel with all the players and no fans around!
DK: The hotel is definitely a little bit different, it feels like you're back at a huge junior national tournament almost. Everyone's in one hotel, which in New York obviously never happens. We're usually spread out between probably 20 hotels.
Outside the lobby we have an outside patio area, so you see a bunch of people out there trying to get any kind of socially distant socializing going. They're trying to get any kind of conversation, just to get some exposure to people. But then you just go back to your room, hang out, and watch as much Netflix as you can. It's definitely an interesting dynamic in a Grand Slam, but I'd say it eliminates all the distractions.
AC: Explain the badge to us. Doesn't it have a special chip in it that shows where you're going so you can't go into New York and go party with your buddies in Manhattan?
DK: Yeah, so on our credential, on the back right here, I think has a microchip in it. We have to have this everywhere we go in the hotel and on site so they can track where you've been and who you've been around.
If someone tests positive, Benoit Paire for example, they're able to track everyone who was around him at certain times to see if they need to be tested a little bit more or not. It's a great idea. So far it's been executed really well, until today.
AC: How did the testing work? Did you have to get tested before you went there? Have you been tested since you've been there?
DK: Umm... Do we have to get tested before we come here? No. Sorry, I was asking my coach. We did not. So you arrive, instantly go to the hotel, everyone takes your bags. Your room is already set up, so you walk into the hotel, take a hard left into this conference room, and you do your COVID test. You do an antibody test as well. Then, you go straight to your room. At check-in, there are a bunch of plexiglass walls everywhere protecting everybody. They give you a blue wristband and you go straight to your room and sit there for 24 to 36 hours to get your result.
Once you test negative, you're allowed to leave the room and do whatever you want and take off the blue band. 48 hours later you have to do it again. Then we get tested every four days. So since I've been here, I've been tested five times. You're constantly doing it. It's a self test, we do it ourselves, but it's terrible. I don't like it.
AC: So from the hotel, you can go downstairs and have dinner in the lobby there, you can get food delivered to your room...? And do you take a shuttle?
DK: Yes, we have a shuttle. Constantly, every 15 minutes. That's great. When you sit on the bus, nobody can sit next to eachother. So it's one person for every two seats. When you order food, the delivery drivers give the food to people working the tournament. They receive the food outside and leave it on a table inside so you can find it. There's no contact with the drivers whatsoever. You're constantly socially distanced. They have a bunch of security guards downstairs constantly telling you to put your mask on if you're deciding to drop it for air. You can only take it off for eating.
Benefiting from the circumstances
AC: Do you think the different rules and criteria around one of the biggest tournaments in the world can provide a... I don't know, some guys are going to handle it better, right, than others. It could create a benefit for some players that can focus and are okay with the whole not-so-much-socialness going on. How are you going to try to take advantage of that and be on the positive side of that?
DK: I think really everybody can benefit from this. People who need to go out to restaurants in order for them to play better... They don't really need to go to restaurants. It's a mental thing. You're fine. You can kind of focus on taking care of your body with all of our treatments here, and mentally stay focused.
A couple things are a little bit weird with all the rules, especially for me. I felt like being on court and not being able to get the towel—I have to get it myself—I felt like I never had enough time to go and get it. I felt so rushed with all my rhythym. Now it's something where luckily I got a match in, so going into the US Open I know what I need to adjust and what to expect during these matches. I'm excited to get it going. Everyone's actually playing really well. These courts are lightning, so Tracy is right. I look forward to battling.
AC: Yeah, it's going to make that two-hander go right through the court, that's for sure.
DK: Oh yeah.
AC: When you go to get your towel, is there not a shot clock anymore? Did they take the shot clock down, are they more lenient with it?
DK: There is a shot clock. The umpire, if you make it obvious you're going to the towel, will delay the start of the shot clock, allow you to walk to your towel, and then start the shot clock. So it kind of defeats the purpose of the shot clock, but those are just the rules we're playing under right now.
AC: Long point, slow walk to the towel?
DK: Yeah. ... Maybe you'll get another 40 seconds. Especially with three out of five it's going to be incredibly interesting: who lasts and who doesn't.
Video tour of the facilities
AC: Right. So you took some videos around the US Open. We're going to go to some of those videos, and you're going to tell us a little bit about them as they go.
DK: So you walk in, straight from the bus. This is our little outside area. This is actually pretty normal, but obviously there's a lot more social distancing and a lot less furniture.
This is what everyone does every morning: walk into Arthur Ashe. Once you get inside, here's the Player Café, that's the practice court desk, these are the stairs to go up to the dining room, lounge area, and the gym area on the third floor. The hallway that you just saw on the bottom leads into Ashe and the locker rooms.
This is the area that usually, without COVID, is just crazy packed at all times. But it seems to always be empty. We walk into these places, and it just feels like everything's half missing. They're really trying to keep people flowing and not hanging out everywhere.
This is the lounge. Half furniture there, so it's tough to get a seat. Those are the air filtration systems that they have everywhere, so all these rooms are actually freezing. Even though it's hot and humid outside, everyone's got these sweaters. It's just... so cold in there. Which is awesome for me, actually.
AC: Normally those spots are packed!
DK: Yeah, you know, it's impossible. At lunchtime, you'd be shocked, considering there's only half the seats. We have QR codes, so you actually don't go up there and get the food; they bring it to your table. Everything's usually pre-made or quick for the most part. But yeah, for having half the seats, it's actually always available, which is nuts. A lot of people are taking to-go orders.
So this is the third-floor gym area. Half the machines are there. I'm actually not using this gym that much because we have additional gyms on the grounds that we use. This one's usually the number-one packed area. This is where everyone wants to go, wants to be. It's a big socializing hot spot. It just gets packed too easily. Everyone's trying to run around and throw medicine balls. It's not the place for me, but now we have the whole outside grounds area with no fans so it makes it a lot easier to do all the things you need to do, especially running around and throwing stuff.
Electronic line calling
AC: What do you think about the electronic line calling? This is kind of new, right?
DK: Yeah, first time we've played it like this. It's accurate... for the most part. Sometimes it messes up completely. It's so weird. I've seen some people hit the ball in the middle of the court and then all of a sudden you hear this huge thing that says, “out!” And we're just like, “what?”
In my first match, actually, I was playing Bedene. He hit a serve that—no doubt—there was a mark, and it was probably a foot out. I looked at the umpire and said “there's no way that was in. It was completely—a foot—out.” And on Hawkeye, apparently, someone who's operating the system needs to tell Hawkeye which way the serve is going for it to know if it's in or out. Maybe it was just a little bit delayed and something messed up, so it is not 100% right. It's about 99% right. It does have its flaws, you just hope it doesn't happen on a huge point.
AC: It has to be hard for the chair umpire to overrule that stuff, too. Can they overrule the electronic call?
DK: They weren't supposed to, but now that we see that there are flaws, they can. But obviously it's new for them, too, so they don't even know what to do sometimes.
No fans: better or worse?
AC: Also, with no fans there, no energy in the stadium, not feeling the energy from everybody around, is that something that can help some players and hurt other players?
DK: Absolutely. I think it depends on who the person is. For me, for example, I'm used to it. I play some smaller events. It's great for me, but I think especially in three of five sets, when you're in that fourth down two sets to love, a break in the third. With all those fans cheering you on and pushing you to keep going, maybe you get that adrenaline. If you have nobody really pushing you, maybe you just give in, throw in the towel, don't think you can do it. If you don't find a second wind. I think it's going to be interesting how people handle that dynamic in a fourth or fifth set.
AC: Yeah, you gotta get it from yourself, huh? So, you've got Cilic in the first round. Have you played him? What's your matchup like with him?
DK: 0 and 1. I lost to him in the fourth round of Wimbledon in 2015... So this is my chance for revenge. I look forward to it. I've been playing well. The courts are super fast, so it's all about first-strike tennis, really, and who's willing to dictate and manage these conditions and stay mentally tough.
We both obviously lost first round in Cincinnati and didn't play great. It's going to be interesting to see who made the adjustments these last two weeks in training. I feel confident in my game, and I think everyone's vulnerable right now. Anything can happen.
AC: Well, you've got a lot of new fans rooting for you. Obviously the whole Grand Slam crew. And the Topnotch crew. You two trading backhands is going to be some pretty big balls going back and forth.
I hope you enjoy it because it's going to be a pretty amazing experience to have. One that I can say we all probably wish we could have. You should enjoy it out there.
The new union from the perspective of a player
AC: One more question for you. There's obviously some crazy stuff going on in tennis right now with a potential new union starting. What's going on with the players right now? What are people thinking? What's the thought process from a player?
DK: So we are all trying to start an association that allows us—hopefully, in the future—to have a little bit more negotiating power when it comes to bigger decisions. We feel like with ATP in certain aspects sometimes they'll listen to your opinion, but we won't fully get the decision in the players' favor or majority in favor of the players.
It's something that I think has tried to be created for the past 20 or 30 years. I think right now it's in the right direction, this is the time where there's an opportunity to do it. Obviously, it can look bad in certain aspects. I think if we ever want to start this for our futures, being able just to have a discussion and have something maybe go our way when it comes to maybe scheduling, just maybe how certain little things in the tour operate, that could work better for us and make our lives a little bit easier or maybe a little bit more valued inside some parts. I think it's something that needs to happen. I hope it does.
AC: Are there some players that are for it and some that are kind of against it, or are you feeling like there's a good momentum going where the majority of the players are going to be supporting this?
DK: The majority of the players have supported this. I think the players that haven't supported it, I'm not personally entirely sure why they're against it. Maybe they just don't have any issues and feel like nothing needs to change. I'd say the majority of the players would disagree with that.
It's definitely creating momentum, but there are still a lot of steps moving forward. We're not trying to be super aggressive, we're not trying to do anything crazy, it's just trying to have a bigger voice and have a lot of decisions actually be made by players, for players.
AC: It's an interesting sport, and there's a lot going on in sports right now. There's a lot going on in tennis right now.
I can tell you that we're all really excited to watch you play, and we're all really excited to watch the US Open come. It's been a long time since there's been some big-time tennis going on. We're all rooting for you and we're psyched for you. Good luck at the US Open!
Thanks a lot for joining us; we really appreciate your time. Go crush some backhands, man.
DK: Oh, absolutely. Every single backhand line I just point at the camera. You'll know. Also a big congratulations on getting married!
AC: Thanks a lot, it was awesome.
DK: I have to tell you all about my engagement story, so I need to give you a call.
AC: Yeah, and I want to hear about it! We have to get you guys back up to Stowe.
AC: Thanks, Denis. Appreciate it, man.
DK: Alright, thank you.
Both: See you!