June 11, 2020 / 11:02 AM / 21 days ago

INTERVIEW-Tennis-U.S. Open protocols won't work for Halep, says coach Cahill

MUMBAI, June 11 (Reuters) - The COVID-19 protocols proposed by the U.S. Open organisers are "incredibly difficult" and would probably not work for world number two Simona Halep, her coach Darren Cahill said.

The hardcourt major is scheduled to begin on Aug. 31 and men's world number one Novak Djokovic has already said that it would be "impossible" to play under the protocols, which would restrict players to their hotels with only one support staff.

"The restrictions are tough. They're incredibly difficult, and every player will have their own opinion as to whether that will work for them. I'm pretty sure that won't work for Simona," Cahill told Reuters in a telephone interview from Australia.

"If you're in a baseball team or a football team ... at least you have your team mates to travel with, to socialise with and to eat with and to train with. Tennis is a little bit different because it's an individual sport."

Cahill said organisers were considering flying players to New York from around the world on charter flights and keeping them in an isolation bubble with regular testing for COVID-19.

"From Simona's point of view, you got to fly over from Romania, you need to spend four weeks in this one hotel in New York, and you can only bring one person," said the Australian.

"Normally you have a physio, a hitting partner, trainer and maybe a coach or two. You've got to basically stay in this bubble with only one person for three or four weeks, and you have to be professional and compete at the highest level.

"So now there are going to be a lot of players that have an issue with that for sure."

Married players, particularly those with young children, would also have problems, Cahill, 54, added.

A highly respected coach who guided Lleyton Hewitt to the top of the game and also worked with Andre Agassi, Cahill has his "fingers crossed" that the COVID-19 situation will improve sufficiently to make such protocols unnecessary.

"We all want to get back to work so hoping the tennis tour starts out really soon," he said. "I know the U.S. Open officials are trying their hardest to make it happen.

"A lot changes in two or three days, let alone six or seven weeks. So as time goes on, I think a lot of the restrictions will start to come down."

The tennis shutdown could be a blessing in disguise for Halep, who also won the 2019 Wimbledon, Cahill said, adding that the 28-year-old has thoroughly enjoyed the break.

Cahill is currently coaching Halep on the telephone or via video link and has asked her to adopt the mindset of an Olympic athlete during an enforced layoff that could extend to the end of the year.

"It's difficult for our mentality and our sport and that's why there's so much admiration for a lot of the sports that are at the Olympics," he said.

"They train and train and train for one big event every four years and that's the most important event in the world." (Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; Editing by Nick Mulvenney and Muralikumar Anantharaman)

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