Exactly a month ago, the world of men’s tennis welcomed a new ATP champion. Thiago Seyboth Wild, then just a few days short of his 20th birthday, became the first men’s singles player born in the 2000s to have won a tour title, when he beat Casper Ruud in the final of the Chile Open. Words of congratulations were still pouring in for the current world No.114, when, a few weeks later, he became the first professional tennis player to be diagnosed with the novel Coronavirus. A few days ago, former French Open doubles champion Patrick McEnroe too tested positive.
On Wednesday, the All England Club decided to cancel Wimbledon, a development that triggered fears of the rest of the 2020 season getting scrapped. The day also saw ATP and WTA extending the blanket suspension of all tour events till July 13. However, there were several voices that expressed doubts about the restart of the men’s and women’s tour this year.
More so since most of the tournaments scheduled later in the year happen to be in countries – US and UK – that are struggling to deal with the Covid 19 outbreak.
With Wimbledon, the oldest Grand Slam, being scrapped for the first time since World War II, the reaction from across the world were extreme. “Devastated,” tweeted eight-time champion Roger Federer.
— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) April 1, 2020
All England Club chairman Ian Hewitt said: “It has weighed heavily on our minds that the staging of The Championships has only been interrupted previously by world wars. But, following thorough and extensive consideration of all scenarios, we believe that it is a measure of this global crisis that it is ultimately the right decision to cancel this year’s Championships.”
This was a cue for some important voice in tennis painting a picture of gloom, at least for this year.
“For tennis to come back this year is going to be tough,” Craig Tiley, CEO of Tennis Australia, the body which organises the Australian Open, told The Age. “It relies on global travel, and that’s probably the last thing that’s going to come back. Sports that have a domestic focus are in a strong position and sports that have a global focus are more challenged.”
Looking at the amount of travel tennis involves around the year, Tiley’s assessment was pragmatic.
Consider how the tennis tour works: players, their coaches, managers, trainers, et al, umpires and tournament officials travel from country to country, week in week out, either competing or organising event after event (this pertains to all levels of the tour). At the same time, apart from washing hands at regular intervals, one of the main precautions required to control the spread of the pandemic is to maintain social distancing and to stay indoors at all times. In other words, the essence of the tour – the travel – in itself is tennis’ greatest problem at this time of crisis.
Former women’s world No.1 and two-time Grand Slam champion Amelie Mauresmo was of the similar opinon.
“We’re going to have to draw a line under the 2020 tennis season,” she penned on her social media handle. “International circuit = players of all nationalities, plus the staff, spectators and people from the four corners of the world who bring these events to life. No vaccine = no tennis.”
Meanwhile, based on a report by The Times, world No.1 and 17-time major winner Novak Djokovic – who won what may just be the only Grand Slam to be played this calendar year when he won his eighth Australian Open crown – is said to have connected with other players over a conference call to float the idea of “calling an early end to this season.”
Simultaneously, there has been some thought that the tour may be pushed back to the latter months of the year – a period normally used as an off-season by players – to hold events that had been suspended from their usual slots earlier in the year.
“The players will have to create their own spacing in the calendar, but for the tournaments’ and players’ sake you have got to utilise all the weeks in the calendar that are available,” four-time Grand Slam champion and former world No.1 Jim Courier said to The New York Times.
With Wimbledon expected to be cancelled this year, and with the pandemic looking unlikely to slow down anytime soon, the US Open, scheduled to start on August 31, may soon suffer the same fate.
The United States has had 188,647 people test positive (the most for any country) for the virus as on Wednesday noon, and 4059 people losing their lives to it. New York City, where the last major of the year is played, is considered the hotspot for the coronavirus in the US.
Furthermore, the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre – the stadium complex where the matches are played – has lent its facilities to aid in relief work. The Louis Armstrong Stadium, which has a capacity of 14,000 and is the second biggest of the three show courts at the venue, has been converted to a commissary that prepares meal packages for up to 25,000. Also, an indoor training area is now a makeshift hospital with 350 beds.
For this year, the French Open, rather controversially, has been postponed to a week after the US Open ends. But given the rate at which the pandemic has been spreading, and with players discussing the prospect of cancelling the season, Roland Garros too may be suspended this year.
If the US Open is cancelled this year, it’ll be the first time it has happened for the event since its first edition in 1881 – 139 years ago. It was the only Grand Slam that did not cancel during either of the two World Wars.
On the day the ATP and the WTA announced that the tennis season won’t commence till July 13, the US Tennis Association said that the final Grand Slam of the year — scheduled to run from August 31 to September 13 — was still on.
“At this time the USTA still plans to host the US Open as scheduled, and we continue to hone plans to stage the tournament,” it said in a statement.
A brave outlook for a tournament that is hosted at a tennis centre, parts of which have been turned into a makeshift hospital and a commissary
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