As chatty spectators so often learn the hard way, silence is golden in the sport of tennis.

Yet facing the prospect of empty stands at the first fanless Grand Slam since the coronavirus outbreak, even top contenders at this year’s U.S. Open admit that the unprecedented new hush will take some getting used to.

Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin told reporters how fans bring out the best in her.

“When it’s tough moments, they obviously are there on their feet cheering for you,” Kenin said, ahead of the tournament’s start on Monday. “I really wish they would be here. They really help me.”

Flushing Meadows fans are notoriously raucous — by tennis standards, at least — as thousands of them usually pack into the sprawling Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, sipping signature “Honey Deuce” vodka cocktails under sunny skies.

Night sessions can get especially boisterous, but not this year.

Gloomy weather and a sparsely-populated plaza, speckled with rain, on Saturday foreshadowed a very different ambience for when the event kicks off on Monday.

The tournament is being played without fans and in a biosecure bubble because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

RNZ

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