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.
‘He Could Become An Excellent Player’ – Remember Roger Federer’s Grand Slam Debut 21 Years Later
More than two decades ago on this day was the start of where it all began for the former world No.1. But what did he and his opponent think about his first match played at a major?
On this day 21 years ago the most decorated grand slam champion in the history of men’s tennis began his major career.
Roger Federer embarked upon the 1999 French Open as the youngest player in the field and yet to break into the world’s top 100. Aged 17, the Swiss player was yet to play in the final of an ATP Tournament and only managed to enter the Roland Garros main draw thanks to a wild card. His opponent was third seed Pat Rafter who at the time was at the peak of his career. The Australian had won back-to-back US Open titles leading up to the tournament.
Undoubtedly the odds were piled heavily against a young and inexperienced Federer, but he still managed to make his mark. Surprisingly taking the first set before Rafter fought back to eventually win 5-7, 6-3, 6-0, 6-2.
“The young man from Switzerland could be one of the people who will shape the next ten years,” the French sports newspaper L’Equipe wrote at the time.
Rafter echoed a similar view to L’Equipe during his post-match media engagements. He went on to become one of the few players to have a perfect winning record against Federer of 3-0. Also defeating him twice during the 2001 season.
“The boy impressed me very much,” he said. “If he works hard and has a good attitude, he could become an excellent player.”
Rafter’s prediction came true but even he at the time didn’t expect the 17-year-old to go on and become one of the greatest. Now Federer holds the records for most grand slam titles (20), most weeks as world No.1 (310) and has won more ATP Awards than anybody else (37). Approaching the age of 39, he remains a prominent fixture in the world’s top 10 18 years on from his debut.
Federer has spoken about his first taste of a grand slam a few times in the past. One of his most notable observations was during a conversation he had with Rafter at the 2011 Wimbledon Championships. When speaking about losing his one set lead, the Swiss maestro said it was partly to do with his mental weakness and showing too much respect to the top guns at the time.
”I was up a set and I was just 17 years old and I wasn’t expected to win,” Federer recounted. ”I think I got broken in the second set and I was like ‘Oh, God, what am I doing?’
”Next thing you know I’m losing 6-3, 6-0, 6-2. It was very mental. I had a lot of respect for the older generation who were already accomplished. Obviously stars like Pat were, for me, people I really looked up to, even though I knew I could beat them. Mentally I was not so solid.”
Rafter has also admitted that his 1999 victory was partly down to the mental weakness of his rival during a 2018 interview with Blick newspaper. However, he blames losing the first set on never playing Federer before.
“I met Roger for the first time at the French Open in 1999. It was his grand slam debut. Since I did not know his game at the time, it took me some time to adjust to him. That’s why I lost the first set,” he said.
“Roger’s biggest handicap was his mental maturity, he was only 17 years old. That was one of the reasons why I came back and win in four sets.”
Whilst the French Open was where it all began for Federer, his record in the major is the worst out of the four grand slams. It is the only one he has failed to win multiple times, claiming his sole title back in 2009. Overall, he has played in the main draw 18 times with a win-loss of 70-17.
How old was the current top 10 when Federer made his grand slam debut?
- Novak Djokovic – 12
- Rafael Nadal – 12
- Dominic Thiem – 5
- Roger Federer – 17
- Daniil Medvedev – 3
- Stefanos Tsitsipas – 9 months
- Alexander Zverev – 2
- Matteo Berrettini – 3
- Gael Monfils – 12
- David Goffin – 8
(numbers in years unless otherwise stated)
‘Global Announcement’ Regarding Revised 2020 Calendar In The Works, Says French Open Chief
Guy Forget has issued an update regarding the current status of the clay-court major.
The governing bodies of tennis are hoping to announce their plans for the remainder of the 2020 season in unison, according to the tournament director of the French Open.
Guy Forget has told French radio station Europe 1 that he is working with the ITF, ATP and WTA on a ‘global announcement’ regarding what the rest of the tennis season would look like when it resumes. All professional events have been either cancelled or suspended since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There are hopes that the sport could resume in August, however, there is still uncertainty around the US Open with a final decision set to be made in June.
The uncertainty surrounding Flushing Meadows is also problematic for the French Open, which is set to take just two weeks after the event concludes. Forget has stated that he is working with the USTA to ensure that the two major events do not collide. The French Open had originally planned to start on May 24th before being delayed due to the pandemic.
“The official announcement has not been made yet. It (the French Open) will probably be between the end of September and the beginning of October,” Forget told Europe 1.
“We’ve been working closely with the ATP, the WTA and the ITF to make a global announcement on what the circuit will be like until the end of the year.
“There are so many question marks. The city of New York is more affected by the coronavirus than France. They also have a lot of organisation problems, they will make an announcement mid-June to say how it’s going to be like for the US Open.”
Whilst the USTA is contemplating taking place behind closed doors, Forget is confident that his event will be able to welcome fans in some capacity. At present, France has banned all events that involve 5000 or more people. More than 500,000 tickets were sold for the tournament last year.
“We’ll see how the situation is in a couple of months. We will adapt to what the government will say. We have to be ambitious and optimistic,” he said.
The French Open is scheduled to be held from September 20th until October 4th. Rafael Nadal and Ash Barty are the defending champions in the men’s and women’s draws.
Chances Of Fan-Less US Open Rising Amid Warning From Former Champion Marin Cilic
The former world No.3 believes such a move would devalue the tournament, but it is the best option the USTA has?
The last player outside of the Big Four to win the US Open title believes the motion to play the event behind closed doors will feel like playing practice matches instead of a grand slam.
2014 champion Marin Cilic has voiced his concerns as the United States Tennis Association (USTA) continues to ponder what to do with the major event. All professional tennis tournaments have been suspended since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic with officials hoping to restart the Tour in August. However, there are concerns about the chances of the US Open taking place as originally planned due to New York being one of the most affected states in America by Coronavirus. More than 20,000 people have died in New York from the virus.
One option under consideration is hosting the event without any fans due to fears that the venue could become a COVID-19 hotspot with many people gathering in one place. Last year a record 737,872 fans visited the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center over two weeks. Such a move would be a huge financial loss for the organisers, but the event would still be able to go ahead. However, Cilic isn’t convinced that it would be the right move.
“I just feel that it’s going to more or less feel like practice matches,” he said during an interview with Reuters.
“It’s always going to be … in the years to come, ‘oh, you know that guy won a U.S. Open in 2020 without fans’. I don’t think it’s going to have that weight…
“It wouldn’t be the best scenario.”
Whilst it may not be the best scenario in the eyes of Cilic, it does appear that the USTA will be heading in that direction. Earlier this week New York Governor Andrew Cuomo posted a message on Twitter in which he said he is willing to partner with sports teams who will play events without fans. A possible lifeline for the US Open.
“New York State is ready and willing to partner with major sports teams that are interested in playing games safely, without fans. If our professional sports teams can make it work (and be safe) on their end, we’re supportive,” he wrote.
Originally the CEO of the USTA, Mike Dose, said it was ‘highly unlikely’ that the tournament would be played behind closed doors. However, that view has since significantly changed with more now leaning in favour of that option.
Lew Sherr is the Chief Revenue Officer of the USTA. Speaking to The Sports Business Journal, he said he has been surprised by the reception he has received from sponsors over the idea of a no-fan US Open with many viewing it as an historic event.
“Two months ago, it just didn’t feel like you could stage the celebration or the spectacle that is the U.S. Open in a no-fan scenario and have it be what we think of as the U.S. Open,” Sherr said.
“As we’ve gone forward, I’ve come around to recognizing what an achievement it would be to play, and how much our fans are missing the game and would be excited to see the competition, and that you need to think about it differently. It’s a different event. It would be broadcast differently, it would be consumed differently, it’s not just playing the U.S. Open as you know it, with empty seats.”
A final decision on the US Open will be made next month.
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