On Wednesday an announcement from The All England Club confirmed what many have both expected and feared in the world of tennis.
The Wimbledon Championships has been axed from the 2020 season due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It has been 75 years since the tournament was last dropped from the calendar and that was due to World War Two in 1945. To underline the uniqueness of the decision, the tournament has never been cancelled during peacetime (outside of the World Wars) since its birth in 1877.
“This is a decision that we have not taken lightly, and we have done so with the highest regard for public health and the wellbeing of all those who come together to make Wimbledon happen.” AELTC Chairman Ian Hewitt said in a statement.
“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, and instead concentrate on how we can use the breadth of Wimbledon’s resources to help those in our local communities and beyond.”
Nobody can fault the action taken to cancel the grand slam. Coinciding with the announcement, the Department of Heath confirmed that a further 563 people in the UK have died from Covid-19 to bring the total to 2352. It is the first time there has been a rise of over 500.
Still, players are left devastated by the fact no Wimbledon will take place. The tournament is one like no other. It prides itself on tradition whilst trying to incorporate the latest technology to keep in line with the current world. Over the years, it has essentially transformed into a renowned brand. Illustrated by the 500,397 who attended the event last year over a 13-day period. For the players, it is the premier court that is in the hearts of many.
“Every time you come back and play at Wimbledon on Centre Court, you warm up and all you hear is the sound of the ball, your movement, your breathing, because people are so quiet. They really only applaud for good shots. They never applaud for unforced errors. It’s just a very respectful crowd. It’s such a totally different feel to anywhere else in the world.” World No.3 Roger Federer once said.
Federer holds the record for most Wimbledon titles won by a man at eight. He was tantalisingly close to a ninth in 2019 with two match points in the final, but lost to Novak Djokovic in a marathon encounter that lasted nearly five hours. For the Swiss maestro, the tournament is considered his best shot at adding to his grand slam tally.
— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) April 1, 2020
Kevin Anderson reached the final of the tournament back in 2018 after coming through a marathon exchange with John Isner that lasted 396 minutes. The third-longest match to ever be played at Wimbledon.
“I’ve always had so many great memories at Wimbledon. The grass season will definitely be missed, but the most important thing right now for us to focus on is that we’re all staying healthy and safe at home.” The South African wrote on Twitter.
‘One of the happiest days of my life’
Like Djokovic, Simona Halep will have to wait until 2021 for a chance to defend her title at SW19. Last year she produced a sublime performance in the final when she simply broke down the game of 23-time grand slam champion Serena Williams with her high intensity and relentless shot-making. Becoming the first ever Romanian to win a singles trophy there.
“Last year’s final will forever be one of the happiest days of my life! But we are going through something bigger than tennis and Wimbledon will be back! And it means I have even longer to look forward to defending my title.” She said.
For Petra Kvitova the grass-court major has always had a special place in her heart. Following her second triumph at the 2014 Championships, the Czech spoke of her pride of being able to lift the title in front of tennis legend Martina Navratilova. An idol of Kvitova who is the most decorated singles player in Wimbledon history with nine titles.
“Not only is it a special tournament for me, but it’s a tournament that has been part of history for so long that it will leave a big hold in the Calendar,” said Kvitova.
“I will miss playing on the beautiful grass and wearing my whites, BUT of course we know it will be back next year. And Maybe we will all appreciate it even more.”
Billie Jean King knows better than most people how much Wimbledon has changed over the past 50 years. The American, who co-founded the WTA Tour, played her first tournament in 1961 when she won the doubles tournament. Since then, she has attended the All England Club every year without fail in some capacity. Regularly sitting in the royal box alongside many other living legends of the sport. Over an 18-year period King won a record 20 Wimbledon titles in both singles and doubles.
“I have been fortunate to go to Wimbledon every year since 1961 and I am certainly going to miss it this year.” She said.
“Right now, we need to make sure we are taking good care of ourselves and loved ones. These are challenging times for all of us and now is the time for us to do what is right for our world and what works for our sport.”
It is said that you never realise how much something means to you until it is taken away. A sentiment that many current and former players are expressing following the announcement. It is the latest blow in what has been a truly devastating year for both sport and the entire world.
Following the cancellation of Wimbledon, all professional tennis tournaments have also been cancelled until at least July.
French Open Make Changes To Tournament Schedule
One draw is getting bigger but another has been cut by 50%!
The French Tennis Federation (FFT) is increasing the number of players participating in this year’s French Open qualifying tournament in order to help provide financial support to more on the Tour.
From 2021 the clay court Grand Slam will welcome 128 players to the qualifying event which is the same number of players participating in the main draw. This is a 33% increase in the usual number of participants which is 96. The event is scheduled to take place over four days between May 24-28 but will be held behind closed doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic like last year. However, organisers are still hopeful they will still be able to open the main draw up to the public.
“This decision will also allow the tournament to support a category of players who have been particularly affected by the Covid-19 crisis, financially-speaking,” a statement reads.
Last year’s French Open offered 10,000 euros to players who lost in the first round of qualifying. Players who qualified and reached the main draw were guaranteed to take home at least 60,000 euros. The prize money breakdown of this year’s tournament is still to be confirmed.
Another change being made concerns the Mixed Doubles event, which wasn’t held at Roland Garros in 2020. The draw will be making a comeback but with a 50% reduction in its field size. Just 16 teams will be playing in the draw compared to the usual 32. Meaning this year’s Mixed Doubles champions will only have to win four matches en route to the title.
This year’s French Open has already been pushed back by a week due to the pandemic with officials hoping the extra delay will maximise their chances of welcoming fans to the event. Although world No.2 Daniil Medvedev recently questioned the decision and if it would make any difference.
“It will give the health situation more time to improve and should optimise our chances of welcoming spectators at Roland-Garros,” said FFT President Gilles Moreton.
“For the fans, the players and the atmosphere, the presence of spectators is vital for our tournament, the spring’s most important international sporting event.”
The French Open main draw is set to start on May 30th. Rafael Nadal and Iga Swiatek are the defending champions.
REPORT: French Open Night Sessions Could Be Exclusively For Men
There will be an equal number of men’s and women’s matches on the premier court but one source is claiming priority will be given to one gender when it comes to playing at night.
The upcoming French Open could be embodied in controversy after a leading media source reported that a deal is being struck to give the evening slot to only male players.
This year will be the first time in history the clay court major will implement a night session starting from 21:00 local time. It has been made possible following a series of upgrades to the venue, including the use of floodlights. The French Open is the third major to implement such a session after both the US Open and Australian Open.
Although a significant argument could break out concerning the tournament with accusations of sexism. RMC Sport has obtained some information about the event and claims a deal is set to be struck for only men’s matches to be played at night. It is alleged that the move is down to the Amazon who has exclusive rights to the 10 night sessions. The belief is that they want to focus more on the men at night in order to maximise their potential audience.
RMC reports that the ‘provisional programme’ for the French Open is that there will be an equal number of men’s and women’s matches on the prestigious Philippe Chatrier Court. However, when it comes to the end of the day it will be men only. There has been no formal confirmation from either Amazon or the French Tennis Federation (FFT) regarding the report.
The controversial claims comes amid speculation over the start date of the French Open after the country went into lockdown for the third time. Roxana Maracineanu, who is the French minister of sport, recently admitted that a delay is possible due to the pandemic.
“Discussions are underway with the organisers on the methods used, in particular for the reception of the public,” the ministry spokeswoman told AFP.
“A delay of a few days is under discussion,” she added.
Both the ATP and WTA will be hoping that no delay occurs due to the impact it could have on their calendars. Should the Grand Slam take place a week later than expected, it will clash with four tournaments set to mark the start of the grass-court season. They are the ATP Stuttgart, ATP s-Hertogenbosch, WTA Nottingham and WTA ‘s-Hertogenbosch.
The French Open is critical for the FFT with it generating roughly 80% of their annual turnover, according to L’Equipe newspaper. Officials are hoping to hold the event in front of fans but this is subject to how the pandemic develops over the coming weeks. Last year the event was allowed to welcome no more than 1000 fans per day under government rules.
At present the French Open is set to begin on May 17th.
UPDATE: The FFT has since published a statement in which they have denied the report.
French Open Start Date In Doubt Amid COVID-19 Crises
Will the French Open get underway next month or not?
A member of the government has confirmed that it is possible that the French open could be delayed for a second year in a row as the country enters into a third national lockdown.
Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu, who is a former Olympic swimmer herself, has told French radio that numerous options are on the table. Ranging from holding the event as currently planned to cancelling it all together. Last year the Grand Slam was moved to September due to the COVID-19 pandemic and took place with a reduced number of spectators allowed to attend.
“We are in discussion with them (the French Tennis Federation, which organises the event) to see if we should change the date to coincide with a possible resumption of all sports and major events,” Maracineanu told France Info radio.
“Today, although high-level sport has been preserved, we try to limit the risks of clusters, of spreading the virus within professional sports.”
Earlier in the week the head of the French Tennis Federation (FFT) said the tournament was on track but admitted that it is possible that the situation could change in the coming weeks. During an interview with AFP, Gilles Moretton stated that any future decision depends on lockdown restrictions.
“At the moment we are on track, the tournament is on the scheduled dates,” said Moretton. “But if we are told a general confinement for two months, we will necessarily have to take measures—at worst, complete cancellation, but I dare not imagine that.
The French Open is currently set to start next month on May 23rd. However, uncertainty over the event coincides with a surge in COVID-19 cases in the country. On Friday authorities said the number of seriously ill COVID patients in intensive care rose by 145 which is the biggest jump in five months. On the same day the country reported 46,677 new cases and 304 deaths.
In a bid to reduce the strain of the pandemic, a lockdown has been imposed on the country with all non-essential shops shut for four weeks and a curfew in place between 19:00 and 0600. Most sporting events have been unaffected by the move so far with the only exception being cycling’s Paris-Roubaix one-day race which has been delayed.
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