As the tennis world reconvenes in New York for the Western & Southern Open and US Open double-header, fans will be keen to see how the enforced six-month hiatus has affected their favorites' form. But an eventful 2020 has affected many off court, as well - not least two-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka, who has gained a reputation as one of the sport's most vital and outspoken young activist voices.
The Japanese No.1 has been recognized to this effect on the front cover of the latest Time magazine, which highlights Osaka as part of the "new American revolution" alongside luminaries such as activist and academic Angela Davis and actress Yara Shahidi. Within, Osaka is interviewed by high school basketball player Mikey Williams, in which she describes going to the Black Lives Matter protests in Minneapolis as "a life-changing moment". The former World No.1 also discusses representing Blackness on court - "Because of that, I feel like I shouldn't lose sometimes" - and her desire to help shape the future: "I want to carve my own legacy," says Osaka.
Jason Goodall, Sam Gore, Tom Rinaldi, Alexandra Stevenson, Patrick Mouratoglou, Chris Fowler, Chris McKendry (Captain) and fellow Aussie Rennae Stubbs. We are also pumped to welcome Caroline Wozniacki and James Blake to the ESPN team. See you next week from New York 😊— Darren Cahill (@darren_cahill) August 19, 2020
Elsewhere, another former World No.1 is also pursuing new ventures: Caroline Wozniacki, who retired from the sport in January, is to make her debut as a broadcaster for ESPN during the US Open. The news, announced by Wimbledon champion Simona Halep's coach Darren Cahill on social media, places the Dane in a strong lineage of players-turned-commentators that includes names such as Daniela Hantuchova, Sam Smith - and Wozniacki's new colleagues Pam Shriver and Mary Joe Fernandez.
On the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, meanwhile, all the talk is of entering the coronavirus-safe bubble created by the USTA to protect player and public health. The first step, of course, is a test for COVID-19 - one which several players, including Petra Kvitova, Coco Gauff and Sloane Stephens, were relieved came back negative.
Negative test back and allowed on site to practice! Thanks to the @usta and @wta for the incredible job in making us feel safe here. It feels different but we are lucky to have this opportunity to play so we will make the best of it 🙏 pic.twitter.com/ERUDvIHqHh— Petra Kvitova (@Petra_Kvitova) August 20, 2020
i tested negative!!— Coco Gauff (@CocoGauff) August 20, 2020
the best text to receive these days 😊 pic.twitter.com/wt4OTEGNGn— sloanestephens (@SloaneStephens) August 19, 2020
Once that was completed, there were several new protocols to get used to. Alla Kudryavtseva embraced social distancing, while Karolina Pliskova and Kim Clijsters got used to the views from their allocated suites - with the latter still remaining as friendly as ever, sending a virtual wave to Jennifer Brady from across the stadium.
Though players would be confined to their rooms until their COVID-19 tests came back negative, they still found solid ways to pass the time: Kristina Mladenovic finished a binge-watch of Spanish TV series Las Chicas del Cable, recommending it to Danka Kovinic as useful for learning languages as well as an entertaining show in its own right. Catherine McNally's eagerness to hone her tennis skills, however, nearly caused unwanted damage to the American teenager's room.
Just finished the official last 5 episodes #LasChicasDelCable Qué maravilla ! ❤️— Kristina Mladenovic (@KikiMladenovic) August 20, 2020
Danka draga, YES 😍 , & a must watch in Spanish. You gonna be fluent at the end of the serie 🙃— Kristina Mladenovic (@KikiMladenovic) August 20, 2020
doing shadow swings while quarantined in my room and just trying to not take out the tv with a backhand 😂😂😂— Caty McNally (@CatyMcNally) August 18, 2020
Overall, though, player reaction to the bubble was a positive one, with Kirsten Flipkens, Sabrina Santamaria and Alizé Cornet all giving the USTA the thumbs-up.
Impressed by the organisation of the @usta Thumbs up! Have really done a good job to provide a safe enviremont for players and their team 👍— Kirsten Flipkens (@FlipperKF) August 19, 2020
Once allowed out to practise, Naomi Osaka, Johanna Konta and Kristina Mladenovic all quickly got back into the swing of things - while Marie Bouzkova, who has been based in the USA during the Tour hiatus, showed that her native Czech Republic was still in her heart.
And with the Western & Southern Open's qualifying rounds also taking place, Astra Sharma and Leylah Fernandez both showed that for tennis players, little compares to the thrill of getting back to winning ways.