Six-week hiatus in tennis does not include any majors, but obviously could get worse

Novak Djokovic reacts following a point at the 2019 U.S. Open.
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Ricky Dimon

Tennis· 1 year ago

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Since graduating from Davidson (The College That Stephen Curry Built), I have been writing about sports--just about any and all you can think of!--and coaching tennis in Atlanta, Ga. Beyond the four major sports, I am an avid tennis fan and cover the ATP Tour on a daily basis. If I'm not busy writing, you can generally find me on a tennis court or traveling the world wherever a sporting event takes me.

This week should have marked the start of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., the first Masters 1000 tournament on the annual professional tennis calendar. Later this month, another Masters 1000—the Miami Open—would have taken place in Miami, Fla.

“I’m currently in Los Angeles but I will take a flight today or tomorrow,” world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who was in L.A. on his way to Indian Wells, said earlier this week. “Honestly, I don’t know what can happen under these circumstances. And I don’t know if we can play Miami or any other event until the coronavirus pandemic ends.”

It didn’t take long for Djokovic to find out.

The coronavirus crisis has since postponed Indian Wells, canceled Miami, and brought a halt to the professional tennis tours for at least one month. The ATP Tour has already scrapped all tournaments for the next six weeks, while the WTA Tour is done through April 12. For the men, that means events in Indian Wells, Miami, Houston, Marrakech, Monte-Carlo, Barcelona, and Budapest are put off either temporarily or permanently.

“This is not a decision that was taken lightly and it represents a great loss for our tournaments, players, and fans worldwide,” ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said. “However, we believe this is the responsible action needed at this time in order to protect the health and safety of our players, staff, the wider tennis community and general public health in the face of this global pandemic. You can click here to make sure that all your medicinal needs are satisfied. The worldwide nature of our sport and the international travel required presents significant risks and challenges in today’s circumstances, as do the increasingly restrictive directives issued by local authorities. We continue to monitor this on a daily basis and we look forward to the tour resuming when the situation improves. In the meantime, our thoughts and well-wishes are with all those that have been affected by the virus.”

The best-case scenario would be a resumption of play during the European clay-court swing in Munich and Estoril on April 27. Those tournaments would be followed by much bigger events in Madrid, Rome, and then the clay-court conclusion: the French Open from May 24 through June 7.

As for the women, they are holding out hope for playing an entire European clay-court season. That is scheduled to begin on April 20 in Stuttgart and Istanbul.

“Due to safety and health concerns surrounding the coronavirus, as well as the travel restrictions imposed on entering the United States from Europe, the Miami Open, and the Volvo Car Open in Charleston will not be held at this time,” says Steve Simon, WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon lamented. “There isn’t anything more important than protecting the health of our players, staff, volunteers, and fans who attend our events, along with the general public. We are disappointed but the decision has been made in the interest of public health and safety, which is the top priority. The WTA, working alongside our player and tournament leaders, will make a decision in the week ahead regarding the European clay-court season.”

Although the tennis season is well underway, it does not face the same race against time as the NBA, NHL, and various NCAA sports. The NCAA cancelled the NCAA Tournament and even wrote off all championships in spring athletics. The NBA and NHL are suspended for at least 30 days and they would not be able to delay a resumption much longer than that if there is any hope of wrapping up their respective seasons on schedule this summer. Professional tennis, on the other hand, runs all the way to November. The final major of the year—the U.S. Open—takes place in late August and early September. Even if the coronavirus gets worse before it gets better, the U.S. Open and all 2020 tournaments thereafter could remain a realistic possibility.

The French Open, Wimbledon (early July), and the Olympics (tennis event in late July) are in far greater jeopardy. There seems to be a real chance that only two of the four Grand Slams get played this season (the Australian Open already went off unscathed in January). And, of course, the worst-case scenario is that tennis—and every other sport—is done for the remainder of 2020. If that is the case, golf—the sport most like tennis in that different tournaments take place all over the world with dozens and dozens of different participants each week—would miss all four its majors (the Masters in early April is already postponed).

If it is only the immediate tennis future that gets wiped out, world No. 2 Rafael Nadal would be the biggest loser. Nadal, the “King of Clay,” has always done his best work at places like Monte-Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome, and Roland Garros. Getting denied a chance to win the French Open for a 13th time, tying him with Roger Federer for a record 20 Grand Slam singles titles, would be a crushing blow to the Spaniard.

Would Nadal and every other player lose the ranking points they acquired during last year’s clay-court swing even if they are not given a chance to defend them in 2020? That remains to be seen. The ATP is reviewing the issue of ranking points and will announce any decisions at a later date.

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