The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has told Ubitennis that health and safety of both players and fans is ‘paramount’ as they continue to deal with the evolving threat posed by Covid-19 (aka Coronavirus).
Tennis tournaments have been disrupted worldwide by the illness, which has claimed the lives of more than 3000 people. Although experts estimate that the death rate from Covid-19 is roughly 1% with the elderly and people with pre-existing medical conditions most at risk. Numerous outbreaks around the world have resulted in various ITF, WTA and ATP events getting cancelled or postponed across South Korea, China and Japan. Meanwhile, the final of the Bergamo Challenger was also recently cancelled due to northern Italy being placed on a lockdown.
As experts try to conjure up with a solution to the outbreaks, sporting organisations have been placed under pressure to do what they can to minimise the disease spreading. Heather Bowler is the Executive Director of Communications for the ITF in London. In an email exchange with Ubitennis.net, she stressed that the ITF is taking a ‘case by case’ approach to dealing with the impact of Coronavirus on their events.
“The ITF is constantly monitoring the data and information from the relevant authorities about the evolution the virus and reviews the situation on a daily basis. The situation is different in each country.” She said.
“We monitor WHO notifications, review travel restrictions issued by national authorities and consult with security and medical experts to monitor the situation daily. Decisions about specific events continue to be made on a case by case based on at this time.”
The organisation is responsible for all tournaments that don’t fall in the jurisdiction of either the ATP or WTA. This includes Davis/Fed Cup ties, junior tournaments and the Olympic tennis competition. There has been doubts concerning the Tokyo Olympics going ahead on time, but organisers remain determined that this will not be the case.
Italy has one of the biggest outbreaks of Coronavirus. At least 79 people have died, according an update from the country’s civil protection agency on Tuesday. At present there will be at least 10 ITF singles tournaments taking place from now until the end of April there. Four men’s, four women’s and two juniors. All of the professional tournaments will be hosted in Santa Margherita Di Pula, Sardinia. Meanwhile the junior events are set to be played in Florence and Salsomaggiore Terme (Northern Italy).
Despite the threat, the latest stance is that the ITF has no restrictions implemented on those participating in forthcoming events in Italy. Something that could change in the coming weeks.
“We are monitoring the situation on a country by country basis but have not imposed restrictions on players participating in Italian events.” Ubitennis is told.
Italy is expected to host their most prestigious tennis tournament, the Internazionali BNL d’Italia Rome, in May.
The uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 outbreak places player’s in an uncomfortable position with many planning months in advance of what their schedule will be. For those ranked outside of the top 100, any last-minute changes will likely result in extra costs and panic about where to play instead.
“If a player makes the decision to withdraw from a tournament citing concerns about COVID-19 they will not be fined.” Bowler stated.
There are ongoing conversations between the ITF and the other governing bodies of tennis concerning the ongoing crises. At present their advice is based on information provided by the World Health Organisation in relation to certain countries. Should it deteriorate any further, there is a chance the ITF could make adjustments to their ‘global policy.’
“We are in regular communication with the ATP and WTA. Currently, the evolution of the virus remains specific to each country and decisions relating to events are made on a case by case basis.” The ITF reiterated.
“We are constantly monitoring the situation and the data provided by WHO, as well as the policies and travel restrictions issued by relevant national authorities, together with advice from expert medical and security advisors. Should the situation evolve and the need arise, we will review a global policy.”
How the ITF could review their global policy is unclear. Although in a worse case scenario, it could advise players against playing in certain countries all together if it was deemed that the threat posed was too substantial.
No fans allowed
This weekend will see countries battle it out in the Davis Cup for a place in the 18-team finals later this year. One of those ties, however will be played in mostly silence with no spectators. Japan will host Ecuador in the city of Miki. In a bid to minimise the Coronavirus threat, organisers have decided to suspend mass gatherings of people. Something that has been seen at other sporting events in the country, which is set to host the Olympics in August.
“Health and safety is paramount. We will make the necessary decisions according to the notifications of the relevant authorities and our expert medical and security advisors. The Japan vs Ecuador tie at the Bourbon Beans Dome in Miki, Japan on 6-7 March will be played without spectators. This decision was taken in consultation with the JTA (Japanese Tennis Association) following advice from Japan Sports Agency and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.”
The problem with Covid-19 is the unpredictability at present. It is thought illness originated from a market in Wuhan, which illegally trades wild animals. As experts get to grip with the science behind the illness, the world of sport is left patiently waiting and hoping for a solution sooner rather than later. Especially for the world of tennis, which hosts numerous top tennis tournaments across Asia during the final quarter of the season.
Despite the mayhem, Bowler is confident that the ITF has the relevant resources to deal with whatever occurs in the future.
“We have dealt with many issues that have had widespread impact and most have their specificities. When dealing with such occurrences, we ensure that we monitor the data closely, remain in close contact with the relevant authorities, constantly monitor and provide information, and, in consultation with the relevant experts ensure we are in the best position possible to make the right decisions about our course of action.” She concluded.
Covid-19 Impact on Tournaments
ATP Challenger Tour
-Anning, China (Week of 20 April 2020) – CANCELLED
-Seoul, South Korea (Week of 27 April 2020 – postponed to August)
-Busan, South Korea (week of 4 May 2020 – postponed to August)
-Gwangju, South Korea (Week of 11 May 2020 – postponed to August)
-Madrid, Spain (Week of 23 March 2020) postponed to October following ATP’s agreement to the club’s request.
-WTA Xi’an Open (April 13-19) CANCELLED
-WTA Kunming Open (April 27-May 3) CANCELLED
-China withdrew from competition in February
-Japan to play Ecuador without spectators
EXCLUSIVE: Denis Istomin Doubtful 2020 Season Will Resume As He Backs Djokovic’s Vaccination Stance
Ubitennis has spoken to the former top 40 tennis star about how he is coping during the Tour shutdown and what he thinks the future has in store for the sport.
Many tennis fans know Denis Istomin thanks to his second-round victory at the 2017 Australian Open over the then world number 2 and defending champion Novak Djokovic. In the current ATP ranking, the 33-year-old Uzbek tennis player can be found in 156th place, but he has a best ranking of 33 achieved in 2012.
Where have you been during the lockdown?
I have been spending this time in Almaty [city in Kazakhstan, Ed.] with my family.
Did you resume training and playing tennis in this period?
Tennis clubs in Almaty have just reopened again, so for now I am still focusing on fitness training. Most likely, I will start playing tennis again on May 25th.
During this time, did you have a chance to talk to any of your colleagues about the current situation? Nadal thinks that the ATP Tour will not resume in 2020. What is the other pros’ viewpoint on this?
Indeed, I spoke with some colleagues who are also my friends about the current situation in which we are living. If you ask me and other players, professional tennis will not resume in 2020.
Do you think it is the same for the remaining two Grand Slam tournaments – the US Open and the French Open?
I would like them to take place. However, I think the chance that it happens is really, really low.
What do you think of the French tennis federation’s decision to postpone the event?
They took the most convenient decision for them, but they did not take the calendar or the players into consideration. In this situation, if the tournament takes place anyway, then surely it will benefit most players, since what they really want is to just be able to play.
Djokovic, Federer, and Nadal suggested the creation of a Player Relief fund to help players ranked outside the top 100 in the ATP ranking. What do you think of this initiative?
I think it is a great idea, because this is a very difficult time for all tennis players, especially those with low ranking who do not have a chance to play the Slams and the ATP tournaments – certainly, many of them are considering giving up professional tennis. I hope that the money pledged through the Fund will help motivate them to keep playing.
Dominic Thiem initially criticised the project, saying that some players are not really committed when playing minor tournaments like Futures. Do you agree with this statement?
I haven’t played Futures for quite some time, but anyway everyone is entitled to their own opinion! Surely, there are players who are not always 100% committed! Likewise, there are many players who work very hard and do not have enough money to travel to and play in those tournaments. Perhaps, these players do not even have a chance to be accompanied by a coach, given that the Futures prize money hasn’t increased by much in the last 20 years. I cannot say I fully agree or disagree with that statement. Both viewpoints make sense. The only thing I didn’t like much was that Dominic’s statement was public – he should have discussed the matter with the ATP or with the players beforehand.
Thiem as well as Matteo Berrettini said that everyone should be free to decide which charitable donations to make and to whom – for instance, hospitals or other organisations – and that the ATP should not force anyone to endorse the Player Relief Fund. What do you think about this?
I agree. Everyone’s own financial situation is different, and I believe that everyone should be able to contribute according to their available resources – no one should feel compelled. Each of us should be able to decide by themselves whom to help and how.
Novak Djokovic revealed that he would be against a potentially compulsory vaccine for COVID-19. This statement caused an uproar among many people who accused Novak to be against science. What is your viewpoint?
Let them accuse me too then! I agree with Novak! There cannot be a compulsory vaccine – every person should be able to decide whether they want to get vaccinated or not.
Do you have any idea of when ATP tournaments will resume on the tennis tour?
I think that the next two years will be really hard for the ATP tour! I hope we can start again soon, but we must be prepared for the worst-case scenario. Since the pandemic is not over yet, the main goal remains staying healthy.
What do you think of Patrick Mouratoglou’s initiative – the Ultimate Tennis Showdown (i.e., the exhibition tournament organised by him)?
It is an excellent idea! Tennis players need to play matches, no matter if they are exhibitions or actual tournaments. I hope that all tennis federations will follow his example and organise something similar for their own players.
Interview conducted by Silvia Aresi
Translation by Riccardo Superbo
EXCLUSIVE: Carlos Martinez Outlines Plan For Women-Only Charity Event In Barcelona
Ubitennis speaks with one of the top coaches on the WTA Tour about his plans for a one-off tournament that will feature a series of top 100 players.
Two months have passed since the world of tennis came to a halt with the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells getting cancelled for the first time in its history. Since then no tournament has been played due to the COVID-19 pandemic with many questioning if or when the 2020 season will resume.
In light of the uncertainty, tennis federations around the world have taken matters into their own hands with a series of events being played in accordance with their laws regarding the pandemic. The Czech Republic, Germany, Austria and America are just some of those taking this approach. Meanwhile, in Rafael Nadal’s homeland of Spain, one prominent coach on the WTA Tour has plans for his own event.
Carlos Martinez is a familiar face in the world of women’s tennis. Under his guidance, he oversaw Svetlana Kuznetsova win two WTA titles during 2016 to qualify for the WTA Finals that year. In 2018 he coached Margarita Gasparyan to win the Tashkent Open whilst ranked 299th in the world. Now he is working alongside former top 10 player Daria Kasatkina.
Martinez is organising a 32-player event at the Club de Tenis Mollet on the outskirts of Barcelona. An academy located just over 20KM from the Real Club de Tennis Barcelona, which hosts the most prestigious men’s tournament in the city every year.
“The dates of the tournament will depend on when the tour will start but it will more or less be between the end of July and end August,” Martinez told Ubitennis.
“The format is the same as the normal situation with tournaments, but I will design four groups with eight players and they will all play against each other in the group. Then the first two players of each group will go straight to the main draw. Then they will play quarters, semis and final.”
The tournament is set to feature a field similar to what you might expect to see at a WTA International. Those interested in playing the women-only event includes Kasatkina, Carla Suarez Navarro, Kristina Mladenovic, Marie Bouzkova and Sara Errani. Other players have also expressed interest but their participation depends on travel restrictions. There will be no prize money available with funds instead going to local hospitals located near the venue.
Martinez, who was a former top 200 doubles player on the ATP Tour before switching to coaching, believes events like his are vital for those in the sport given the current situation. Professional tennis tournaments have been given the provision return date of July 13th, but it is speculated that this deadline could be extended over the coming weeks.
“This tournament will be very important for all players because all of them can play a minimum seven matches and maximum 10 so it is the best practice for all of them before the circuit will start again,” he explains.
“After some weeks of practice they need to compete again and the best way is to do it like this. Thinking about my player (Daria Kasatkina) is the best way for her after practicing for a long time.”
‘Kasatkina is a champion’
Fortunately for Martinez, he has been able to continue his work with Kasatkina as best as he can throughout the lockdown. The Russian is currently based in Barcelona and enjoyed a mixed start to 2020 by winning nine out of 16 matches played. Her best run occurred at Lyon Open where she reached the semi-finals. Lyon was one of the last tournaments to take place before the Tour shutdown.
“Daria is fortunately living in Barcelona and it helps a lot because she can come every day to my club and work hard as always,” Martinez said of the world No.66.
“I mix weeks by practicing and few days resting because like this she can come with more motivation. At this moment it is not easy for players to be motivated because they don’t know when they’re gonna play tournaments again. She shows me every day that she is a champion and very ambitious.”
Kasatkina has been ranked as high as 10th in the world back in 2018 and is also a two-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist. Reaching those milestones during the same year she broke into the top 10.
Undoubtedly the 23-year-old Russian will be a key attraction in the upcoming tournament. Martinez’s hope is that the event will not only benefit the players, but Spanish tennis fans as well. Last week the country’s most prestigious tournament in Madrid was meant to be played with uncertainty over its chances of taking place later this year. Meanwhile the upcoming Davis Cup Finals, which is held at the same venue, is also in serious doubt.
“I think that it is very important to organize these kinds of tournaments because it’s a very good opportunity to watch the best players in our country,” he said.
“All of them are travelling all season and it is very difficult for spectators to follow them. Also for the players it is very comfortable and brings them nice emotions where they played a long time ago (on the Tour).’
“But in the end the players like to play big events and travel around the world.”
Whilst Martinez’s event is full of intrigue and excitement, it is by no means a substitute for the WTA Tour. Something he hopes will be returning sooner rather than later.
“In my opinion they have to start as soon as the pandemic will be controlled. If it can be this season better, if not as soon as possible after pandemic,” Martinez concludes.
“All players are a bit nervous because they have no idea and that makes it more difficult.”
For now it is a waiting game to see when the sport will return. However, thanks to the likes of Martinez, officials are trying to fill the void whilst giving something back to society at the same time. Something that has to be commended.
Provisional list of players confirmed for the tournament
- Kristina Mladenovic FRA (No.42)
- Marie Bouzkova CZE (No.47)
- Jil Tiechman SWI (No.63)
- Daria Kasatkina RUS (No.66)
- Carla Suarez Navarro ESP (No.68)
- Arantxa Rus NED (No.70)
- Nina Stojanovic SRB (No.86)
- Sara Errani ITA (No.169)
Uncertainty, Anxiety And Optimism: What It Is Like To Work In A Sport That Has Come To A Standstill
From travelling the world for tennis to self-isolation with an uncertain future, Ubitennis sheds light on those in the tennis industry directly affected by COVID-19…
Just three months ago tennis coach and tactical analyst Mike James travelled the globe providing his expertise on the ATP Tour.
The founder of Tennis Data company Sportiii Analytics is working with the team of former world No.1 junior player Miomir Kecmanović, who reached the semi-finals of the New York Open in February. James’ job is to provide relevant data to Kecmanović based on the matches he played and travelled to the Doha Open in January.
“The year started well. I was out in Doha with the team. Miomir made the semi-finals, he beat (Jo-Wilfried) Tsonga, (Marton) Fucsovics and it was a really good tournament. He lost to (Andrey) Rublev, who has been on fire this year,” James reflected.
“The last tournament I was involved with was Acapulco and he had a great win against Alex de Minaur before losing to the champion Rafael Nadal.’
“He has had a good year in the sense of making good progress with his development and analytical side.”
Relishing in his job on the Tour, it all started to come crashing down on March 9th. A date that triggered the beginning of the longest suspension of play in the history of modern tennis. In what had originally been thought to be a serious health threat in China alone, the coronavirus swept through the world in devastating fashion. It is no longer safe to travel to certain areas as experts continue to research into a remedy to contain the previously unknown virus.
In light of the serious health threat, it was only a matter of time before the global sport of tennis would suffer. At first Indian Wells was cancelled, then Miami, then all events until April and now the suspension has been extended to at least July 13th. Leading the lower ranked players anxious about how they will make ends meat over the coming weeks. Some have already returned back to studying and others have embarked upon the online coaching.
James isn’t a pro, but he is one of the hundreds of behind the scenes workers affected by the suspension. At a glance, some would think tennis starts and stops with the player, but there’s much more to that. There are their physios, coaches, hitting partners and so on. In most circumstances, if the player cannot generate any income, their support staff will not get paid. The exceptions are those making big money at the top.
“My role is predominately based on playing matches on the Tour. So when he (Kecmanović) is not playing, there is not too much for me to do,” James explained.
“I am doing a lot of work behind the scenes with the game development and helping support him. But obviously there is a limit to how far that can go when he is not playing.”
Leicester-based James is not immune to the hardship despite his credentials. His previous role was supporting Magnus Norman for team Stan Wawrinka and other players he has worked with include doubles specialists Ante Pavic and Tomislav Brkic.
Fortunately, he and other British coaches has been given a lifeline by the British government and their pledge to support self-employed people like him. Although in other countries, it is a very different situation.
“Tennis coaches, physios and players are a self-employed entity. So everyone has their own individual case,” he explains.
“I’m from the UK and our government has been amazing in supporting self-employed people and furlong 80% of my last tax return.’
“I’m doing some online consultancy and a few other things to keep me busy, but the reality is my main income comes from the professional Tour.”
From worldwide travel to virtually house confinement
Like most of the world, James finds himself in lockdown waiting for the pandemic to reach a point where he can soon return back to everyday life. When that will be is unknown. Coming to terms with the prospect of being told what you can and can’t do it tough for anybody regardless of their job.
Perhaps the biggest issue a person may encounter at this time is their mental health. In one survey conducted by the American Psychiatric Association, 36% of respondents have said the pandemic has had a serious impact on their mental health. These findings will differ between countries and even sports, but the issue remains very much a serious factor in all forms of life.
“Personally, I am going through positive and negative moments of emotion,” James commented on his own circumstances.
“The positive thing is that we are all in this together and the coronavirus is not discriminated against in any walk of life.’
“Originally when Indian Wells was cancelled there was a mini panic in my household. Everybody around me was saying why was I getting so upset and anxious. I was aware then that I could see into the future and the domino effect that could be happening.”
The tennis community appears to be uniting in order to support each other through these times. For example the top 100 players on the ATP Tour have their own WhatsApp group, but it is secret as to what they discuss. James himself is also seizing the benefits of technology.
“I’m over-communicating with everybody at the moment, I’m speaking on WhatsApp, Zoom, Houseparty and everything I can do to communicate with guys around the Tour,” he said.
“Everybody is trying to feed off each other in regards to what the Tour will look like when we come back. I think that will be down to the length of time the Tour is away will affect what the Tour looks like when it comes back.”
As to when the sport will come back, it is very much a case of the unknown. The United States Tennis Association recently published a statement saying they intend to host the US Open as scheduled later this summer. Something that former players such as Amelie Maureasmo and Janko Tipsarevic have doubts about.
James also shares the view that the current July deadline of tennis returning will not happen. At present there has been more than one million cases of COVID-19 worldwide, according to John Hopkins University. More significant for tennis, is that America is yet to reach its peak of the epidemic. A country that is currently scheduled to host no fewer than six ATP events between July-September.
“Do I think it (the tour) will be back on July 13th? No, because of the current situation. I think if it gets postponed until September and if the first tournament is the US Open, the issue with the tennis tour is that it can’t start back at 25 or 50 percent capacity with tournaments because it would affect the rankings too much,” he believes.
“The tennis tour has to start back fully – ITF’s, Challengers, main Tour. If that doesn’t happen then basically the Tour can’t start back. So my concern is maybe 2020 is now finished.”
The LTA lifeline
On Friday the British Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) announced a £20 million aid package to support players, venues and coaches around the country with the help of grants to players outside the top 100 (as long as they don’t have an existing governing grant). Britain has 11 male players in the world’s top 400, but only three of those are in the top 100 – Dan Evans (28), Kyle Edmund (44) and Cameron Norrie (77).
Support staff like James are also set to benefit from the scheme that aims to maintain the standard of British tennis throughout the ongoing crises.
“What the LTA did was unprecedented from any federation. I think it is an amazing gesture with them (the LTA) putting £20M back into the game. Supporting coaches with £4 million set aside. That will hopefully support somebody like myself, but I don’t know yet how much I could receive.”
It is understood that the ATP and WTA are also coming up with their own plans as to how they can help compensate players who have lost earnings. It is unclear as to if this will extend to anybody else working in the sport.
There is also another element to all of this. The Tour has been able to grow over the years due to their sponsorship deals, but with the economy taking a battering there could be more problems ahead.
“Tennis is a global sport and massively relies on sponsorship. From ATP 250s down. On the WTA side, it is even more. If there is a global meltdown the first thing companies stop doing is putting money in sponsorships. The longer this goes on, the more it will change the way the tennis tour looks.” James warns.
Light at the end of the tunnel
Six weeks have already passed since the last ATP Tournaments were played. During the last weekend of February Nadal triumphed at the Mexican Open and Novak Djokovic was triumphant in Dubai. Undoubtedly those involved in the sport are now suffering mentally, physically and financially. But can it be possible that the devastating pandemic could have a silver lining for the future?
Tennis is a unique sport due to the way it is structured. No fewer than seven bodies are involved in the sport. Each with their own objectives and agenda. A situation that has previously proved problematic when it comes to reaching a mutual agreement. So it may be that COVID-19 ironically unites them once and for all.
“I want to say that it will be different for the better and I think if the organisations actually communicate and come together during this period and create more solidarity. I believe tennis could come out in a much better way,” James says with optimism.
So what could the future of the Tour look like? That depends on who you ask with various personalities in the sport having their own view. As for James, how the sport changes will depend on how long the Tour suspension lasts for.
“I think in regards to prize money, International travel, rankings, Tour structure that could all very well change. But this all depends on the length (of the suspension).” He said.
“If the whole year is written off there are a whole lot of people behind the scenes who have got to look at what 2021 looks like and how we get tennis back. Which is the most important thing.”
With people fighting for their health around the world, it all seems very trivial to consider what may happen to a sport in the coming weeks.
At the time of his despair, James does see the bigger picture. Whilst he resides at home, somebody close to him is in the midst of the covid-19 battlefield, providing him with a stern reality check.
“My wife is a nurse and they are on the front-line. The job they’re doing is unbelievable.” He said.
“I think I’m quite fortunate to be at home, safe and waiting for this to ride out.’
“You have to stay positive and over-communicate with people.”
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