Tennis Braces Itself For Potential Coronavirus Chaos - UBITENNIS
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Tennis Braces Itself For Potential Coronavirus Chaos

No tennis player have tested positive for the virus, but the world of tennis could face multiple challenges over the coming months.

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A number of upcoming ATP Challenger Tour events in China, including Zhuhai (pictured), have been cancelled. (IMAGE: atptour.com)

In a recent interview with ESPN China’s top player says he starts conversations by stating how many days he has been out of his country.

 

World No.136 Zhizhen Zhang continues to play on the tour around the world as his homeland deals with a serious disease that has now been declared as a global epidemic by the World Health Organisation. Coronavirus, which also goes by the name of Covid-19, has claimed the lives of more than 1000 people worldwide with the majority of the fatalities being in China. Officials believe the outbreak originated at a food market in Wuhan where the illegal trade of wild animals takes place.

“Whenever my parents call me, all they tell me is to not come back now,” Zhang told ESPN. “They want me to stay away from home and stay safe.”

Zhang is currently playing in India on the Challenger circuit, but lost his opening match in Bengaluru earlier this week. Due to his nationality, any signs of illness alert the doctors and those around him. As he recently found out.

“I visited the tournament doctor’s room because I was feeling uneasy and running a bit of a fever. When he learnt I’m from China, he was worried. Since I didn’t have a cough and I’d been out of the country for a while, it helped put everyone at ease,” the 23-year-old said. “Now wherever I go, when I tell people I’m from China, I make sure I add that I’ve not been to the country in two weeks.”

It isn’t just Asia, where there are concerns about the illness and how it can affect the world of tennis. Cases have also been identified in the UK, USA and Spain. However, it believed those infections was started by somebody who had travelled to the region.

In South America the Buenos Aires Open is currently taking place. This year’s field features six top 40 players, headlined by world No.14 Diego Schwartzman. They may be a long way away from China, but concerns remain.

“I was a little relieved to leave the Australian Open at the end of last month, because I knew it was a matter of days or weeks before the first case of coronavirus arrived. We were just a few hours by plane from the infectious outbreak in Asia.” La Nacion quoted Guido Pella as saying.
“We suffered the issue of forest fires (in Australia) which was terrible for everyone, but then the coronavirus approached. We are living a difficult and sensitive moment in the world.”

Horacio Zeballos is one of many parents on the tour who travel with both his wife and children to certain tournaments. The top seed in the men’s doubles tournament says he is always mindful of germs when going to various countries. A mindset he had before the Coronavirus outbreak.

“We try to have extreme cleanliness and always travel with alcohol gel. My wife is constantly washing the hands of the boys, mostly at airports. Then, we take some measures as not to put the suitcase on top of the bed to undo it or leave the stroller, which walks through all the streets, outside the room. With regard to the Coronavirus we do not take any action yet.” He said.

Tough times for Asian tennis

Venue of this week’s WTA Thailand Open

A series of tournaments have already been cancelled in China. Including multiple Challenger tournaments as well as a regional Fed Cup tie being moved to Dubai. Many understand that reason as to why, but nevertheless it is a financial issue for some on the tour.

World No.289 Sasikumar Mukund had planned to play no fewer than five tournaments in China over the next two months. Now they are cancelled, he has been left in limbo. The country was set to hold 14 Challenger tournaments in 2020.

“I don’t have a schedule, where can I plan next?” Sasikumar told The Hindu’s Sportstar on February 6th. “The tournaments got cancelled last Tuesday. For now the plan is to stay in Europe. I don’t know what’s going to happen going forward. The Olympics are at stake if it goes on like this!”

Officially cancelled
-Qujing CH 50 (Week of 2 March 2020)
-Zhuhai CH 80 (Week of 9 March 2020)
-Shenzhen CH 90 (Week of 16 March 2020)
-Zhangjiagang CH 80 (Week of 23 March 2020)
Strong chance of being cancelled/moved but not confirmed
-Taipei CH 125 (Week of 30 March 2020)
-Nanchang CH 80 (Week of 6 April 2020)
-Changsha CH 80 (Week of 13 April 2020)
-Anning CH 125 (Week of 20 April 2020)

If the outbreak isn’t contained later this year for whatever reason, the tennis calendar could be thrown into chaos. After the US Open, China will host a series of prestigious tournaments that will feature the best players in the world. Including the WTA Wuhan Open, which is the city where Coronavirus is said to originate from. In total the country will host eight WTA events between September and November, including the prestigious WTA Finals. On the ATP Tour four events are scheduled to take place during that period with the most high-profile being the Shanghai Masters.

It isn’t all doom and gloom for tennis in the region. This week the Thailand Open is taking place that features world No.4 Elina Svitolina. According to The Bangkok Post, officials have sprayed the venue with ‘environmentally friendly products’ to relieve fears about the virus.

“We want to show to the world that Thailand is safe after the coronavirus outbreak [in China],” said Suwat Liptapanlop, chief adviser of the organising committee.
“We want to tell foreigners that they can come to Thailand because this is a safe place.”

Another talking point concerns the Olympic Games, which will get underway on July 24th. Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Simona Halep are just some of the players who will be bidding to claim a gold medal in Tokyo. Japan has recently pledged to use 10.3 billion yen ofd the country’s budget in the fight against Coronavirus.

“I want to again state clearly that cancellation or postponement of the Tokyo Games has not been considered.” 2020 Games chief Toshiro Muto told reporters on Wednesday.

Tennis officials are hoping that they can take the same stance as Muto later this year during the Asian swing of the season. But for now it remains a nervous waiting game to see how much worse it will get.

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The Corona Impasse: What Effect Will It Have On The Careers Of Federer, Williams, The Bryans, Nadal, and Djokovic?

We’ve witnessed the retirement of several players over the last two years (Berdych, Ferrer, Almagro, Baghdatis, …). Many thought that the same would have happened in 2020, but that might not be the case any more.

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Roger Federer e Rafa Nadal - Wimbledon 2019 (foto via Twitter, @wimbledon)
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Caveat lector. All those who, after reading the title, are about to accuse me, to accuse us of click-baiting, those are invited to refrain from reading.

 

We are simply trying to discuss themes that we notice to be in the minds of the fans, and we are trying to relieve them from the more or less catastrophic updates they are bombarded with on a daily basis, at a time when actual tennis will be off limits for God knows how long.

I also warn those who are still reading, out of intellectual honesty, that I have no evidence to support the hypotheses I’m going to make in the few lines – however, I’m relying on predictions coming from inside the tennis microcosm. Most of these were made very recently, I might add, up until the cancellation of Indian Wells (feels like a century ago already!), and they appeared extremely reliable. Said predictions obviously don’t apply anymore, but I still think that some friendly and useful debate might spring, starting from a few considerations floating in my brain.

I’d like to begin by reminding the readers that, between 2019 and the dawn of the 2020 season, the unexpected Kim Clijsters comeback was counterpointed by many retirements of noted players, starting with a pair of perennial Top Tenners, David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych, joined in tennis Benidorm by Nicolas Almagro, Marcos Baghdatis (all former Top 10 players), but also Victor Estrella Burgos and Max Mirnyi, and that’s just on the men’s side.

As for females, the obvious star is Maria Sharapova, but also Sweet Caroline Wozniacki and Dominika Cibulkova. In 2018, we said goodbye to Tommy Haas, Francesca Schiavone, Roberta Vince, Karin Knapp, Nadia Petrova, Gilles Muller, Florian Mayer, Mikhail Youzhny, and I’m probably forgetting more and more.

But what was going to happen over the rest of the 2020 season and beyond? How many would have ridden off into the sunset this year?

Well, the twin rulers of doubles, Bob and Mike Bryan (119 and 124 titles, respectively) announced that they would stop after the US Open, after spending 438 weeks, as joint leaders of the ATP Rankings (although Mike actually spent 506 weeks at the top), with a streak of 139 consecutive weeks – record on record. Bonus one: they also concluded ten seasons as the world’s best. We know what’s going on in New York, and so the US Open might not take place, even if postponed.

Pedalling backwards, after the 41 years of age of the Bryans (they’ll turn 42 on April 29) we find Venus Ebony Williams, who turns 40 on June 17.

Despite winning 7 Slams out of 16 finals (5 at Wimbledon), Venus reached the N.1 spot on three different occasions but for a meagre total of 11 weeks, a chasm between her and Serena, who’s been on the throne for 319 weeks (nine more than Federer!) and has surely prevented her from doing it herself on more than one occasion.

A year ago, Venus implied to me that her goal was to play in the Olympics once more. Having already bagged four gold medals (like her sister), once in singles and thrice as a pair (with a mixed doubles silver medal on the side), Venus is the only tennis player who can boast a medal at four different Olympics (from Sydney onwards), and if she’d gotten one in Tokyo her record would have probably become even more unbreakable – let’s remember that she and Serena never lost a Slam final in the doubles.

Her spirit wasn’t broken by two defeats she suffered against a girl who might be her daughter (Coco Gauff beat her at the Championships and in Australia), at least not to the point of declaring herself ready to hang her racquet. However, even if the rankings are frozen by the virus, she’s now stuck at the 67th spot, and I’d be extremely surprised if the postponement of the Tokyo Games hasn’t made her call it a career.

Speaking of Tokyo, we know that the Olympics are now delayed till 2021 (even though the Japanese don’t want the 2020 branding to end up in a waste-bin), but we don’t know exactly when they’ll take place. Some think they might happen in June (when the UEFA Euros will also be played); some say March, when the simultaneous progress of the Sunshine Double would effectively behead the tennis event in Japan or spell a second doom for at least one event; some say they will happen in the same dates that were slated this year.

PAGE 2: WILL ROGER FEDERER AND SERENA STILL BE PLAYING IN 2021?

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The Coronavirus Crisis Exposes A Lack Of Communication And Solidarity Among Tennis’ Top Bodies

There should be unity when it comes to a global pandemic that threatens the sport, but this has failed to happen once again.

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What is the world of tennis doing to deal with the Coronavirus threat? It should be a question with one answer from all within the sport. However, this was never going to happen in the confusing and complex world of tennis politics.

 

On Thursday afternoon the ATP confirmed the suspension of their tour for six weeks with immediate effect. Challenger tournaments taking place at present are to be cancelled by the end of the day (after matches have finished) and some of the most prestigious events will no longer happen. Including Miami, Monte Carlo and Barcelona. All set to feature many of the world’s top 10 players.

“This is not a decision that was taken lightly and it represents a great loss for our tournaments, players, and fans worldwide. 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.” ATP CEO Andrea Gaudenzi said in a statement.
“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.”

As male players ponder the repercussions of what the decision will have on them with many joking that they have been made unemployed, their female counterparts were left waiting. Then they waited some more and are still waiting now for some clarity.

In an unexpected turn of events, the WTA didn’t take a similar approach as that to the ATP. Well, for the moment that is what it seems. No statement has been disclosed to the public about their plans to counter Covid-19 on the tour. The only light shed was courtesy of the Associated Press, who obtained a brief comment.

It is as much shocking as it is baffling considering the ATP and WTA tour’s simultaneously take place in the same parts of the world many times throughout the year. Although this was always going to happen when there are two governing bodies. ATP oversees the men’s tour and WTA is in charge of the women’s.

Tennis bosses could rightfully argue that they should have the choice to do what they think is best. But surely a united approach to a global pandemic is the best one? Unless both tours take place on opposite sides of the world, what is the logic in not doing so?

In the midst of the confusion, the WTA suffered a fresh blow. The prestigious Volvo Open in Charleston officially cancelled their tournament for next month due to the current crises. It was at this point when WTA chief Steve Simon commented on his organisation’s approach to Covid-19. Almost five hours after the ATP statement.

“The WTA, working alongside our players and tournament leaders, will make a decision in the week ahead regarding the European clay season.” Simon said in a press release.

Of course, there has been communication between tennis’ top bodies. On what level as to what kind of detail is unclear. Although it is pretty evident that there are no united front. Rightfully, they both want to do what is best for their players, but seemingly have different ideas of how to tackle it.

There is also the International Tennis Federation to take into account. Overseen by president David Haggerty, they are in charge of the Fed and Davis Cup tournaments as well as the Olympic Tennis competition. To their credit, they have been the only governing body to mention the others.

“We are of course working closely with the WTA and ATP as well as with the IOC to minimise the health risk due to the spread of COVID-19.” ITF Head of Communications Heather Bowler told Ubitennis.
“There will be further announcements as the situation is evolving on a daily basis and tennis is working collaboratively to handle the impact on our sport.
“Since early Feb 2020, the ITF formed a dedicated COVID-19 Advisory Group comprised of medical, travel and security experts which is continuously monitoring the data, WHO guidelines and the steps announced by national authorities.”

Although there is irony when it comes to the ITF. Yesterday they confirmed the postpone of Fed Cup playoffs and finals. Then today they did the draw for the Davis Cup finals later this year, an hour after the ATP six-week suspension was confirmed. Would this timing have been made if tennis was run by one organisation? Absolutely not. By the way, all ITF tournaments have been postponed until April 20th.

It is clear that tennis is very patchy and has been for many years. They have a history of struggling to find a common ground. Just look at the development of men’s team tournaments over the past couple of years.

The ATP, WTA and ITF are not terrible organisations. Without them tennis would not be where it is now, which is a multi-million pound sport. However, they do lack unity and at times clarity. Leaving players and their teams in an uncertain situation.

Maybe it is time player’s have their own union in the future? After all, would you want to work in a job where there are three different bosses who make three different policies that will influence your career?

Locations of tournaments in the near future

WEEK STARTING ATP WTA
9/3/20 Indian Wells, USA
Indian Wells, USA
23/3/20 Miami, USA
Miami, USA
6/4/20 Marrakech, MOR
Houston, USA
Charleston, USA
Bogotá, COL
13/4/20 Monte Carlo
Fed Cup Finals, HUN*
2-/4/20 Barcelona, ESP
Budapest, HUN
Stuttgart, GER
Istanbul, TUR

*Run by ITF
Note: Cities crossed out with a horizontal line marks cancelled tournaments as of March 12th 2020.

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Coronavirus: I Think That The Time For Jokes Is Over

Those who should be calling the shots are showing more and more uncertainty. Surely, this is ignorance-driven, but then we should just play it safe.

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We’ve been kidding long enough. I wouldn’t have wanted to write about Coronavirus myself, since many have already done so and with much greater competence than I could ever muster. However, the situation has gotten to a point that prompts me to do it, albeit with the awareness that I can’t say anything particularly new or offer a fresh perspective on the disease. Right now, I feel like common sense is the only thing we can rely on, and I hope I have some to offer. 

 

Newspapers, TVs, all sorts of media outlets, they’ve been publishing endless content about Covid-19, flooding front pages, bulletins, etc…

At the same time, though, I’m pretty sure that we’ve all received jokes and memes on WhatsApp, always with a Coronavirus motif. Well, I think that we’ve reached the threshold of seriousness (especially among tennis and sports fans in general), now that we’re seeing some victims who apparently weren’t sick nor octogenarians.

While a few days ago I was frankly amused by a friend of mine who elected not to shake hands with me, well, today – after reading of a 61-year-old who died in Parma on Sunday night after experiencing the early symptoms on Friday night, a man who was apparently healthy and sporty, spending the entirety of his spare time on court – today I find myself more understanding towards whoever may decide to take precautions, while still trying not to be engulfed in mass hysteria.

And I don’t see why we shouldn’t advise that our loved ones take the same precautions, since they don’t hurt in any way – except for causing some embarrassment at having to refuse a handshake or a kiss on the cheek – and that the threat for public health is real, although maybe not as much as advertised.  So why take a risk? Quo bono? We can always apologise if our choice upsets somebody, as the other day I was upset myself, and we can always explain that we are not just doing it for our own sake. Is it boring, is it a nuance, is it ridiculous? It is, but there are worse ordeals to go through, ordeals that many people like us are experiencing after having felt safe and after having perhaps tried to play it cool when facing more timorous and wary than theirs.

Our politicians have been under heavy fire for the past few days. Some attacks were justified, others were not, some were ludicrous and self-interested, others were just spontaneous. Honestly, this isn’t an easy situation to manage, and, most importantly, no-one (and I mean no-one) could have any experience in managing them. This a complex predicament, even more from a public relations standpoint than from a decision-making one, because of the consequences that all choices and communications could have, on the one hand, for public health (the most important thing, and yet tied to a knowledge of the virus that eludes most), and. on the other, for the economy of a region and of a whole country, especially when having to take into account that some other countries might want – and I underline, might want – to speculate on the spread of the virus within our borders. The newly-found reputation of Italy having almost as many sick patients as China or South Korea – even though this is mostly caused by the quantity of testing that we’ve administered, unlike many other countries who have deemed us plague-spreaders – is a media reality that we have to come to terms with, unfortunately.

Almost all of us (including myself) have been making gut-based decisions, even when our gut blew hot and cold, influenced by official and non-officials channels that kept telling us different things, one minute trying to calm us down and instilling mortal dread the next.

Maybe this is due to contingent interests. The necessity not to scare-monger excessively, the necessity not to destroy the economy of a nation that has been acting as one of the three main incubators from the beginning, these necessities have driven some, politicians and laymen, to present scenarios that were ever too optimistic.

It won’t be easy to revive all the companies that in the meantime have fallen to historic lows, nor those that have experienced a heavy avalanche because of the uncertainties lying ahead.

At the same time the threat of a pandemic is casting dark lights on the future. And all of this is happening as real scientists are confused and fake ones confuse us, contradicting themselves in a hubbub of fake and actual news – the result is that nobody knows what’s going on. Unfortunately, the authorities have contributed to this disorienting feeling, both at a national, regional, and now the sports level.

The latter, like our Football Association (the Lega Calcio), have made the most damage, especially because of the media following that football has, for various reasons that encompass passion, money, visibility – a match between Juventus and Inter has a far greater impact than a concert, as it goes beyond our borders due to TV exposure. One region advised one thing, another said the exact opposite, the Serie A worried about the spread of the virus, the Serie B didn’t – a bona fide fiasco. We’ve witnessed contradictory approaches every day, even on the same show, even on different pages of the same newspaper.

Newspapers still have more credibility than web-based outlets, because we keep thinking that these fully-employed professionals are more punctual in the verification of news – I feel that such credibility is now crumbling.

Yesterday, We’ve been waiting all day of a government decree that would tell us how to go about with our daily lives as students, spectators, fans. The very first decree promulgated by our PM, Giuseppe Conte, pertained schools, whereas the wait for the expected suspension of sports events underwent further delays, as if 24 hours hadn’t been enough to make a definitive call – in the end, it was decided to play behind closed doors till April 3.

I don’t have an opinion on what should have been done, nor I think I should have one without the proper scientific knowledge that should be the basis for any decision of this kind. The only thing I feel comfortable saying is to accept every sort of decision with discipline, and to unite as much as possible, without any considerations pertaining internal divisions, contrasts, or interests.

What I care about is the Italian people and their well-being. What I care about is Italy, its consistency, and even its image, which hasn’t had many good looks so far. Let’s try, for once, to behave as we would like our kids to behave, especially for those who go to a football match solely to wish a painful death to every fouled opponent – my dream is that one day fans might stop with hate-cheering against opposing teams and cities, but I feel like this might be utopian. I mean that for the readers of UbiTennis too, who sometimes transcend civility and display attitudes that are far over the line.

Finally, to go back to our beloved game: the Davis Cup tie between Italy and South Korea will be played behind closed doors, which is too bad, as those who have made the effort to organise the event, the players, the fans, they would have deserved a proper atmosphere. I dearly hope that this decision was not instrumental to political or economic interests.

Those who should be calling the shots are showing more and more uncertainty. Surely, this is ignorance-driven, but then we should just play it safe. I have never been prone to alarmism, albeit perhaps I have been to fatalism, and this is what I think. What about you?

Article translated from Italian to English by Tommaso Villa

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