2020 US Open Virtual Welcome Dinner: Tracy Austin talks the draw

Our Virtual Welcome Dinner on Sunday, August 30th was a blast. Watch it now for free or read on to find out what Tracy said!

This transcription has been edited slightly for clarity and readability. 

Special guest Tracy Austin joins the show

Andrew Chmura: Now it's my pleasure to introduce our guest tonight. Former World No. 1 and two-time US Open champ. She defeated Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova in those finals. She's also a mixed doubles Wimbledon champion with her brother, a Tennis Hall of Famer, and my favorite announcer, Tracy Austin! Thanks a lot for being with us tonight. 

Tracy Austin: Hi there Andrew, it's great to be with you. It kind of feels weird to be in California when the US Open is about to start, but at least they're playing.

Family matters

AC: That's right. It's nice to have some tennis on, that's for sure. So, how are you doing? How's your family? How have you been spending your time?

TA: A lot of tennis! All three boys are back home. Brandon graduated from USC. Unfortunately, his senior year was cut short; he was very disappointed with that. Now he's turned pro, and has no tournaments to play yet. It's been a little frustrating for him, but he's been getting stronger and practicing a lot.

Our youngest son, Sean, graduated high school. Again, a disappointing way to finish your senior year. I think—big picture—we're lucky that we're all together and we've all been safe.

AC: Absolutely. Is Sean heading to college next year?

TA: Actually, last week he started his online classes at USC. He'll be playing on the team. They're not going to have any matches or tournaments until at least January... And who knows what's going to happen in January. As you know, Brandon just graduated from USC in June, and now Sean is starting at USC in August, so they just missed each other. It is strange: he goes in his room and does his Zoom online classes, but of course not much has been normal in 2020.

AC: Yeah, that's for sure. Do they get a chance to practice together? Do they play together?

TA:  Yeah, it's really interesting, because I was actually with you, Andrew, the night of March 8th in Indian Wells when it was canceled. We were doing a Welcome Dinner for the [Topnotch Fantasy Tennis Camp] before Indian Wells. It was just so strange that such a big event was canceled. Then we came back here, and then it was one event after another.

It was obviously so scary; we really shut down hard with the quarantine. We practiced on private courts. Brandon and Sean just hit with each other for seven weeks! Every single day. It was actually a pleasure for me to get out of the house and be on the court with two of my kids and just have them play tennis with each other. Because we were so tightly quarantined, it was extra special that they had someone in the family to practice with.

AC: I guess one of the positive things about the quarantine at least is you get a lot of time to spend with your family. That sounds like a great way to do it: on the tennis court. 

TA: Hey congratulations on getting married! Yay! That's good news.

AC: Yeah! It was awesome. It was pretty small, just our family, but it was kind of nice to have a small wedding like that. There was no pressure, [I] got to focus in on [my] family and Steph, so it was really nice. Thank you for that. 

TA: That's beautiful.

Tracy's thoughts on the 2020 US Open draw

AC: Well we do have a US Open coming up, which is exciting! What do you think about the draw? What do you think of the potential dark horses coming through?

TA: Well obviously it's so interesting because you don't have Rafa or Roger. Roger wasn't going to play because of his two knee surgeries. Rafa was going to be an interesting prospect to see whether he was going to try to defend his title, because [it would have been] US Open on hard courts, immediately Rome the week after, then trying to defend his Roland Garros title. I think he felt that at 33, 34 years old, he had to choose one or the other. ... He would have gone deep at the Open. Would that have hurt his chances to get a 13th major? He chose not to play.

Thankfully, Djokovic has decided to play. I think the tournament really would have been hurt if Djokovic decided not to play. Now, Djokovic is playing without Roger and Rafa there. He's at 17 majors, and boy, he could get within touching distance of 18 if he wins this thing. He's my favorite, but a dark horse is someone that's close to your heart: Reilly Opelka. I'm not saying that just because you guys represent him.

I don't think there's anybody in the draw that would want to see Reilly's name: six-foot-eleven, huge serve, moves I think better than anybody that tall on the tour, had a great Cincinnati, and lost in the quarterfinals. He actually had to retire from his match because of a bad knee. He's playing Goffin first round, and he's beaten Goffin. Goffin's not that tall; I think that hurts his range on the return of serve. The courts are playing a bit quick from what I've heard, so I'm going to go with Reilly for my dark horse on the men's side. 

AC: Alright. What about the women's side? Who do you think on the women's side has a shot to come through? Because, you know, it's a little bit different. There are some women that aren't playing, Barty's not in it—obviously Fed and Rafa are not playing in the men's draw—Halep, right, so there is an opportunity for some of the players to come through and have a big result. 

TA: I think the women's draw is really wide open. And Andrew, as we know, it's so unusual for players to be out. Probably since they were eight, nine years old they haven't not played tournaments for five or six months, unless they've been injured. So this is unprecedented. They had basically that one tournament, Cincinnati; a couple played in Prague on the women's side, but then to have a major right away is tough. So we don't have a lot to understand how these players are playing.

Number one seed Pliskova lost in the opening round at Cincinnati. Kvitova, who plays so well on hard courts—historically, she hasn't played her best tennis at the US Open, but she's fresh this year—she lost early as well. I think Jen Brady is someone to look for. She would actually play Pliskova in the third round. She'd have to play Bellis before that; CiCi's coming back. But Jen Brady, boy, does she hit the ball heavy, she hits the ball strong. She used the quarantine seemingly really well, because she's fitter than I've ever seen her. She hits with so much rotation and so much spin. She won Lexington, which was incredible because that was a very strong tournament the week before Cincinnati. So, Pliskova's been a finalist there before.

On the women's side, if I had to pick a favorite right now, I'm going to go with Osaka. Hopefully her hamstring, which she had to default in the finals of Cincinnati because of, will be fine. She would have to play Coco Gauff if you move the draw forward to the third round. That would be very interesting. I'm just not quite sure what to expect on the women's side, because we saw quite a few upsets in Cincinnati.

For Serena Williams, I'm usually quite comfortable putting her as the favorite. But when she played in Lexington, she lost to our friend Shelby Rogers, 7–6 in the third. Then she lost to Sakkari in a very strange match in Cincinnati, where Serena was up a set and 5–3 and then just seemed to completely run out of gas in the third set.

There's so much to talk about. Coco Gauff is just 16 years old, and then there's Venus who's forty years old right now; she can go deep. There's Kim Clijsters, who's coming back after three kids in her second huge comeback. I don't think people want to see her next to their name, because she's a champion and played so well at World Team Tennis. I just find that every round has some potential to be very exciting because it is so wide-open on the men's and the women's side... Except for Djokovic. Djokovic hasn't lost a match all year.  

A different experience and how players will react

AC:  Do you think that some of the players are going to perform better with the different circumstances here? With no fans, less energy maybe on the court, and maybe being able to get into themselves while they're playing and not have that outside stuff going on around them? I mean, some players have to be able to perform better under that situation. Some players have to like the energy around them.

TA: That's such a great question. Serena Williams, who's lost in four major finals since coming back from having Olympia, is trying as we all know to tie Margaret Court's record at 24. Serena just seems to have frozen in the finals. Her opponents played extremely well, but for Serena to lose in straight sets in 56 minutes against Halep at Wimbledon last year... Halep played spectacular tennis, and only had three unforced errors, but maybe Serena will feel a little less pressure this year if she can go deep. Serena has one of the tougher draws. I was just looking—she would have to beat Kristie Ahn, which is doable; Kristie had a great event last year. But then it's Puig, who can get hot—that's fine—Stephens, who's been up and down, and Anisimova or Sakkari. Sakkari beat her in Cincinnati. Then it's Keys or Muguruza. So we just don't know. Muguruza has an ankle injury, so she pulled out of Cincinnati; she's very light on matches, but she got to the finals of the Australian.

One thing that's interesting: the Australian is a little bit like this in that they come into the beginning of the year and they have one or two tournaments max before they're playing a Grand Slam. So, it's not unprecedented. A lot of times these players are fatigued by the time the US Open comes around. I think these players are pretty appreciative to just be playing tennis.

They'll have to stay really tightly in that bubble, because this morning we saw that Benoit Paire tested positive. He's out of the draw. So, the players need to stay safe, and they need to stay healthy. There's a lot of money on the line, and I think it's given the players a lot more perspective and appreciation for their job.

The ATP, WTA, ITF, and... PPTA?

AC: We had a couple questions submitted from some clients, and this question kind of goes towards that last point. “From the outside, it's hard to make sense of what's going on with the players with the ATP and the new players' organization that is being discussed. Who's on who's side? What does it mean? What could it mean for the future of tennis?” This is kind of a big deal.

TA: It is a big deal. For me, I hadn't heard about it. This seems to come at a weird time when there's so much uncertainty. The USTA has done such a great job to put everybody in the bubble and keep everybody safe to get the players back playing.

From what I hear, Djokovic and Vasek Pospisil feel frustrated that they're not getting enough leverage. They don't get enough input into major decisions, and therefore they're trying to create a union just for the players. Andy Murray I think was very level-headed; he said he's not ready to join or sign the paper. Rafa and Roger? Clearly it seems that they're against it.

Andy came out and said that he wants to give the current management from the ATP a little bit more time. I think that it's kind of a weird time. He also speaks up for women—I think Judy, his mom, raised him beautifully—because Andy says if something like this happens, he would love to see that the women are involved in it as well.

Apparently 66 of the men's players have signed this paper to go forward with this. It's more of a players' union, whereas the ATP has the ATP executives, tournament directors, and the players. It'll be interesting to see. I'm just surprised that Novak can play and win Cincinnati and start this whole new union and not be sidetracked so much. 

AC:  Do you think that the ATP is worried about the players being in a more powerful situation where they could hold their own events outside of an ATP event? Is that the concern with the ATP?

TA: Well, I think that the ATP would think that this is a threat, but at the same time I heard a quote from Goffin saying that a lot of the tournaments are struggling financially right now and are not sound. So you have to look from every side. You know, we have to have tournaments, and the ATP obviously has a calendar that seems to have worked for so many years.

I think a lot's going to unfold in the next month. We just want to make sure that we keep tennis on strong footing for men and for women. I hate to see more turmoil at this time when there's already so much chaos.

AC: It seems like the sport is pretty segmented as it is, you know, with the WTA, the ATP, the ITF, and all these different organizations. It seems like unity right now is the best move, but it's hard to know.

TA: And COVID. And for the women's tour, all or most of the fall was canceled because it was in China. For the men, I think they've put a lot back on. For someone like my son, Brandon, who has turned pro, there is nothing to play in the United States. There are no Challengers and no Futures, so there's so much uncertainty. It's a difficult time for everybody in the world in 2020 right now, so this is just throwing another stone into the pond. 

2020 US Open* (*see fine print)

AC: Absolutely. Okay, another question that was submitted: “should there be an asterisk next to this year's Slam in your opinion?”

TA: I'm going to go with “no.” I think it's a lot for the players to show up, particularly the ones from Europe or outside the United States. We saw so many that chose not to come. For the ones that have come with their team, they have to come early, and they have to stay in a bubble. Again, I think so many have gotten perspective and are just really excited to be playing tennis again. They miss competing.

I'm going to go back to when I was playing in the early 80s. Oftentimes the French Open and the Australian Open were extremely weak. Going back even further, before I even started playing: Margaret Court, who's record Serena is chasing, was sometimes winning the Australian Open when there was just a draw of 32 players. That still counts as a major.

We haven't had the same precedence throughout all of tennis history, until about '83 or '84, when all four Grand Slams were played by everybody. Even then, I think Agassi missed a few years. I think Ivan Lendl said that grass was “for cows” for a while (he didn't want to play at Wimbledon). Jimmy Connors missed the French Open. So I think I'm going to go with no asterisk. There's a lot on the line. Djokovic is going for number eighteen and Serena is going for number twenty-four, and there's tons and tons of opportunity for us to get a first-time Slam finalist and maybe a winner again.

AC: Yeah, and I think there's a lot more that goes into it than a normal one to win this Grand Slam in particular. I mean, to be able to be focused enough to stay in that bubble, do the right thing, and be prepared for this tournament when there aren't really any warm-up tournaments before it, it takes a lot of motivation. It takes a lot of focus for the players.

TA: Again, by this time the players have had so many matches under their belt. Some of them are going to be too tired. They're going to be fresh, but some of them will be without a doubt light on matches.

Andrew, you played, you know how it is. If you don't play a match for three or four weeks, when you go out you feel a little rusty. So someone like a Jen Brady, someone like a Reilly Opelka, those are young players that seemed to really get stronger during COVID and quarantine. They were also able to play some exhibition matches. Whatever it was, they were out there and it counted. Obviously, it didn't count for points, it didn't count for the ATP or WTA, but it was still something where they were playing under pressure.

That's why I think Jen Brady played so well in Lexington. She played three weeks at World Team Tennis. I think that's going to be really helpful for players. For someone like Dominic Thiem, he seemed to never quit. Every time I turned on the television it seemed like he was playing another exhibition match in France or in Austria or wherever he was. That's why it was such a surprise that he lost his opening-round match in Cincinnati, only winning three games. He's the number two seed, I'm going to be curious to see how he does.

They're saying that the courts are playing a little faster this year. That should help certain players, like Raonic. I think Raonic is also a dark horse. Who would want to play him? He seems to be really dialed in and playing terrific tennis.

A smaller crowd

AC: When was the last time you missed the US Open? Do you remember the last time that you weren't in New York during this time?

TA: I do. It was 1989, and it was because I was in the car accident August 3rd. I was playing Team Tennis for New Jersey. During the US Open in '89 I was still in the hospital recovering.

But it is weird, Andrew; we go to most of the majors, but the US Open certainly every single year. So it is very strange.

I was talking to a reporter from the New York Times, and they said they only had one pass. They have a few reporters that work for the NYT, and only one person was going to go. He said there were only eleven credentialed reporters there. For television, it's only ESPN that's there, on site, and I think World Feed. They need to keep the numbers down. Obviously there's Hawkeye, and there's no lines people on the outside courts, which has seemed to work well. It's all about safety.

With Benoit Paire testing positive, apparently on the credentials there's a way to follow how you interacted with people. So there's tracing. It can tell who's met up with who, and who's been around other players. I think the USTA needs to be applauded. They have done a phenomenal job in hosting Cincinnati and the US Open. 

AC: It's not an easy task, for sure.

TA: A lot of moving parts.

AC: There's a lot less business going on at the US Open this year as well. Normally there are a couple hundred agents there. This year I guess there are twelve or thirteen actually on site. It's pretty interesting how things have changed, and just for this year's US Open it creates a lot of different sets of what's happening. Maybe some of the players are going to respond to those different things in different ways, and we're going to see a new champion, or at least a few new breakthroughs. 

A chance to break through

TA: Well last year of course we saw Bianca Andreescu, before that Osaka, Sloane one before that. They won their first majors at the US Open. So it's definitely a possibility.

AC: Absolutely. Also, some of the players are coming in with different levels of fitness. Do you think it's going to be beneficial for some players? Like you said, some of the guys like Thiem play all the time; Reilly, it probably benefits him a little bit to have less matches with his big body. So some of the players are going to benefit from not having a lot of match play and some of the players might struggle with not coming in with a lot of that match play.

TA: Yeah, there's so many factors to it. You want matches going into a Grand Slam, because that's what you gear your schedule around. You kind of set your schedule with the Grand Slams, then work backwards. “What do I need to play in order to be peak at each major?” Obviously, the players had no choice this year. They're just doing the best they can with how many matches they can play, and the fitness level of each of them. I think it's going to be pretty hot back there.

I will say that for a major, you usually get the day off in between. That's going to be very important, especially for the men, who play three-out-of-five sets in their second tournament back. It's quite taxing and quite difficult.

We'll see who spent the time in quarantine and used that wisely. Not only to get fit, but someone like your client JJ Wolf, who's young—I think JJ's 21 years old. He's done so well; he only turned pro within the last year and he's won four Challenger events. He has got a phenomenal draw, because he plays Guido Pella in the first round. His trainer actually tested positive for COVID before Cincinnati, so Pella had to go into quarantine. Going into quarantine, I'd assume, means no practice, so JJ's going to go out there playing against a guy who's not feeling a lot of rhythm. 

AC: Yeah, and there's no way he's got a better haircut than JJ, that's for sure.

TA: What is it, party in the back and, what did you say... Business in the front, party in the back?

AC: Business in the front, party in the back. Yup, that's right.

TA: That's right. And JJ's got those short shorts. I actually think JJ Wolf could get to the third round. I really think he's got a good opportunity for that. There's lots of opportunity in these draws.   

AC: I agree.

TA: And you know the ranking has gone further down because so many of the players have decided not to play. I think it's 22 or 23 players from the top 100 on the women's side chose not to play. So now someone ranked 135 is getting directly in without having to play those three qualifying matches. As of this morning—which was interesting—when Benoit Paire pulled out, they're not going to bring any new singles players into the bubble. They went with the doubles player who was ranked the highest, and that was Granollers. If anyone else tests positive, they're going to start plucking these doubles players. They're going to be able to play, and they get $61,000 if you lose in the first round. Not bad. 

AC: That's probably more than he's made playing doubles for a while, I'd imagine.

TA: Good stuff.

Hoping to see you soon

AC: Well, Tracy, thank you so much for joining us. It's always a pleasure to have you. Our clients love hearing from you. You bring so much information and knowledge to all of us and we love it. Thank you very, very much. 

TA: Thank you! I only wish I could see them all. Hi guys!

AC: Hopefully that will happen soon! Hopefully at the BNP this year. Hopefully we can get back on our groove at the BNP.

TA: Back on track. Congrats again! Have fun.

AC: Thanks, Tracy!

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