Grand Slam tennis returns next week in New York

AP photo by Frank Franklin II / Arantxa Rus, right, returns a shot from Serena Williams during a match at the Western & Southern Open on Monday in New York.

In a year unlike any other, get ready for a U.S. Open unlike any other.

"There was definitely a point where, in the beginning, I was like: There is no way these tournaments can even happen," Serena Williams said about playing amid a pandemic.

Professional tennis returned recently from a hiatus of nearly six months caused by the coronavirus outbreak - and it will be back on one of its biggest stages Monday, when Flushing Meadows begins hosting the first Grand Slam matches since the Australian Open ended in February.

"There are going to be a lot of people around the world who think we should not play tennis, that no public gathering should happen. I understand that fully. I really do," said No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, who caught COVID-19 in June during an exhibition tour he organized in Serbia and Croatia that did not mandate wearing masks or social distancing.

"But,