In a way, this year’s Western & Southern Open and US Open have been the debut of “Hotel Lockdown”. Players competing in the New York bubble are always at one of two places: the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center or their hotel.
But the athletes have certainly found ways to stay busy, even without being able to explore Manhattan or frequent restaurants.
“I’m usually watching NBA matches here,” 2019 US Open finalist Daniil Medvedev said. “Almost all the time I was watching [the] Washington [Wizards], but they lost quite fast. I came here, I saw just two matches [of theirs].”
Reilly Opelka enjoyed one of the best runs of his young career at the Western & Southern Open, reaching his first ATP Masters 1000 quarter-final. The American believes his countrymen benefitted from having NBA and NHL playoffs to watch during their downtime. Opelka, who lost in the first round of the US Open against seventh seed David Goffin, spent many of his bus rides to and from the venue watching basketball on his phone.
“The NBA playoffs helped a lot, giving us some things to do. I’d say that’s the biggest advantage for U.S. players. We might have [had] a few more things outside of tennis to do,” Opelka said. “[John] Isner for example loves hockey. He [was] glued to the hockey games every night. Me and Frances [Tiafoe] and Tommy [Paul] are really into basketball. We’ve been watching basketball all day every day and you’re able to pass some more time in the bubble that way. I think the biggest advantage is having sports we like to watch.”
Taylor Fritz, who reached the third round of the US Open, felt life in the bubble was fairly normal. Fritz is an avid video gamer and while he didn’t bring the full PC setup he uses at home, he travelled with a 24-inch monitor, put it on his suitcase and gamed away.
“I’ve just been playing video games. I brought my whole setup that I need to keep me occupied. Just watching shows on my computer, YouTube, kind of what I normally do at tournaments anyway,” Fritz said. “Being in a bubble, being cooped up in your hotel room for three weeks actually gives me the advantage because this is usually what I do anyway.
“[It was] pretty easy actually, I’ve never had any issues doing that. PlayStation in my backpack, got the slim one. It’s easy, as long as the hotel Internet allows it.”
A small group of Americans gamed together — albeit separately — in the bubble. The players include Fritz, Tommy Paul, Mackenzie McDonald and Marcos Giron.
“I brought the PlayStation 4. I typically travel with it regardless. It’s a fun way to disconnect and socialise with my girlfriend and friends back home,” said Giron, who advanced to the second round. “The PS4 has been especially great in the bubble since we can’t explore the city like we normally can. A few of us have been playing some ‘Fall Guys’ and Fritz is a beast at the game. Of the group, Fritz is definitely the strongest on the sticks.”
Kyle Edmund has been mixing it up quite a bit, trying to find different things to do in order to keep him mentally fresh. The Brit took a set from World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the second round.
“[I’ve spent] a lot of time in my room. I’ve been on the golf simulator a bit with the guys, a little bit of the basketball. You find yourself with free time so you’re watching [TV] series, films. I just started watching the new Tottenham documentary [Sunday] night, which was interesting,” Edmund said. “When you’re in the bubble for so many weeks, there are only so many shows and films you can watch before you get a bit bored and a bit enclosed in the room.
“The Grand Slams are so tough physically, turning up to the courts each day, but this is also a bit of a mental test, especially inside the bubble. It’s literally the courts, then you’re on the bus for an hour back to the hotel and there’s nowhere to go… You’ve just got to try to keep fresh [mentally]. You can easily get stale.”
Another Brit, Ken Skupski, said some of his countrymen got competitive in the hotel.
“The boys enjoyed themselves in the evening time. There was a lot of foosball taking place. Andy Murray and Jonny O’Mara were dominating the world, they took on the Russians the other day. They asked for better competition as the week went by,” Skupski said. “Some of us were at the golf simulator. Quite a few of the English guys have a very good handicap… we’ve had a nearest-to-the-pin competition. There were seven or eight of us all going at the pin, which was great fun.”
Someone who took advantage of the hotel’s arcade room is Tennys Sandgren. The room features various games like ping pong and foosball. The American has been especially keen to play pop-a-shot basketball.
“I keep battling somebody named ‘The Magician’ who’s putting up the high score and so I keep battling this guy. Every morning he plays and he gets the new high score and then I go and I get the new high score,” Sandgren told ATP Tennis Radio. “We’re just battling back and forth. It’s a two-horse race right now. One day I’ll find this ‘Magician’ and we’ll bump elbows.”
Two popular hotel features have been the coffee stand in the lobby and the nightly food trucks. While players are not allowed to leave the hotel premises, they can visit the food truck to pick up some food and then relax in an outdoor, socially distanced seating area.
“I’ve really enjoyed these food trucks they’ve had for us. One night it was tacos, one night it was pizza, one night it was barbecue. That’s a pretty cool idea that since we can’t leave the hotel, they brought some food options to us,” reigning Australian Open doubles champion Rajeev Ram said. “Then you can sit outside, hang out, eat your meal and get away from what seems like the bubble.”
It turns out “Hotel Lockdown” isn’t so bad.