The United States Open that is set to begin in New York on Monday will be far from full strength, extraordinarily far, but will it really be the Asterisk Open?
As of Sunday evening, 24 of the top 100 women were missing, including six of the top eight and three of the four reigning Grand Slam singles champions: Ashleigh Barty, Simona Halep and Bianca Andreescu. Though Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka will be in the field, it will have the fewest top 10 players — four — of any U.S. Open since the WTA rankings began in 1975.
On the men’s side, only 12 of the top 100 were out as of Sunday, but this will be the first Grand Slam tournament of the 21st century without both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Stan Wawrinka, a three-time major singles champion, will be missing, too.
The absences are primarily because of concerns about traveling and scheduling during the pandemic.
But if you want to start affixing asterisks to Grand Slam tennis tournaments with weakened fields, you had best have a big box of asterisks.
“It is messy, and it is tricky,” said Steve Flink, an American tennis historian.
First, there is the amateur era, which lasted until 1968 and prohibited professionals from taking part in the four major tournaments: the Australian Championships, French Championships, Wimbledon and U.S. Championships.
Until 1968, leading men’s players — like Jack Kramer, Ken Rosewall and Rod Laver — would often turn professional after making their mark in the amateur game, which meant Grand Slam events seldom featured all of the best men in the world, only the best “amateurs,” some of whom received under-the-table payments to help them afford to remain amateurs.