In light of the Covid-19 outbreak, the world of tennis has been left waiting and wondering as to when the Tour will resume.
Steve Flink from The Tennis Channel speaks with Ubitennis about various topics in the sport, including when the next grand slam tournament may take place. The United States Tennis Association (USTA) has recently stated that they are hopeful to host the US Open as scheduled. However, their optimism has been disputed by many including Flink. At present the Billie Jean Tennis Center has been turned into a temporary hospital to help treat those affected by the pandemic.
“I think it is increasingly likely that the US Open will be cancelled. Everything is already cancelled up until July.” Said Flink.
“It’s hard for me to see how they (the USTA) would be comfortable to bring 23,000 people to the Arthur Ashe stadium. Plus all of those thousands walking around the ground. I don’t think they will feel it will be quite safe enough to play this year.”
If the US Open doesn’t take place, when might the tour resume? ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi told Italian reporters on Wednesday that his organisation has come up with ‘around 50’ possible scenarios about the 2020 calendar. Meanwhile, Steve Simon from the WTA has said similar plans are also underway for women’s tennis. Both organisations have said they are committed to working together throughout the process.
Weighing in on the complex and unfamiliar situation being faced, Flink believes this year’s calendar should be cancelled is no tennis played up until a certain point. Although one of the options being considered included expanding the Tour into November and December which is when the off-season would usually take place.
“I like the idea that once we reached a certain point in the calendar everybody would say ‘we are just done and we will come back stronger next year.’ I think it is a little less messy than the other way.” He commented. “On the other hand, I understand why they would consider November and December because it is an option they have to explore.”
The big guns
Due to the suspension, speculation has mounted about which member of the Big Three is suffering the most. The majority of experts are learning towards 20-time grand slam champion Roger Federer, who will turn 39 in August. Prior to the suspension of the Tour, Federer announced a brief hiatus after undergoing knee surgery.
“Out of the three considering the age difference you have to think that this hurts Federer more than the other two. Who, if we are lucky to go ahead with the majors without this kind of disruption again, will be able to get back on their feet and win again. With Nadal winning Roland Garros and Djokovic could win everywhere. But with Federer this year looked to be his last opportunity to win Wimbledon again.”
However, Scanagatta believes Serena Williams will be at an even greater disadvantage than Federer due to the suspension. The American won her first title as a mother earlier this year at the ASB Classic before crashing out in the third round of the Australian Open.
“For Serena Williams it is even worse than Federer because for her to keep up her form and condition she needs to have a perfect condition to win and play well,” he said. “While for Federer he is a more natural athlete and doesn’t need to practice as much to be fit.’
“For Serena this one-year stop is worse than it is for Federer.”
Flink and Scanagatta are both veterans of tennis journalism. Prior to this season, both have attended every Wimbledon championship for 40 consecutive years.
The full video chat between the two can be watched below. Other topics they cover includes the players next in line to take over from the Big Three, how The Tennis Channel is operating with no tournaments to broadcast and some memorable historical moments.
French Open 2021: ‘Philanthropic’ Prize Money, Hour Of Freedom For Players And Murray’s Possible Wildcard
Details about the upcoming Grand Slam event have been revealed.
The French Open has vowed to support those who have been the most severely affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic after publishing details of their plans.
A ‘Philanthropic’ prize money fund has been set out by the French Tennis Federation (FFT) which has been designed to help lower ranked players on the Tour participating. The money pot for this year’s event will be 34m euros which is a fall of roughly 4m euros compared to 2020. However, there will be no changes made to the winnings on offer during qualifying and the first two rounds of the singles tournaments.
“In light of the current situation, we are proud to have once again opted for a philanthropic prize fund, which allows us to support the players who have been severely affected by the health crisis, financially-speaking,” tournament director Guy Forget said.
After delaying the start date of the tournament by a week earlier this year, the French Open will welcome fans to their event. Under an agreement with the government, 5388 spectators will be allowed to attend each day between 30th May to 8th June. Then from the 9th June they will welcome 5000 spectators with a ‘health passport’ to the Philippe Chatrier Court and the number allowed inside the stadium will increase to 13,146. However, only one out of the 10 night sessions will be opened to the public this year due to the 9pm curfew. The only exception will be on June 9th when the curfew is extended to 11pm.
As for the players, they will have to abide by a strict health and safety protocol which has been ‘inspired by the one adapted by the WTA and the ATP.’ Upon arrival at their hotels, they will be required to have a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of their first match. They will only be granted permission to attend Roland Garros if that test is negative. From then on, they will be tested every four days.
However, players will be allowed one hour each day to spend time ‘outside their social distance bubble.’ The idea being that they can go out for a jog or enjoy some ‘fresh air.’
“Our goal is not to put them in a necklace and attach them to their hotel or to the Roland Garros stadium,” Forget stated.
Forget says players will have access to restaurants and fitness facilities in their hotels but will not be allowed to train at Roland Garros on the day they don’t have matches.
Murray a wildcard contender
Former world No.1 Andy Murray faces a wait to see if he is eligible for a wildcard this year but Forget says he does ‘deserve’ one given his credentials. The Brit has fallen down to 123rd in the world and as it currently stands will have to take part in the qualifying tournament if he wishes to play at the Grand Slam.
“I know that Andy entered the qualifying (rounds), I know he’s practising right now in Rome, I saw him play some games and sets with Novak Djokovic,” Forget said.
“Andy is a great player, he sure deserves one (a wildcard). It is a discussion we have to have with him and our team. We want to see him in good shape, I hope he feels well.
“He hasn’t played any matches yet, which is obviously what any player wants to do before committing to a big tournament, especially when you are going to play the best-of-five sets.”
Murray is yet to play a singles match on the clay this season but is taking part in the doubles tournament at the Italian Open this week after receiving a last-minute entry. He is paired up with Liam Broady.
“It’s the French Open’s decision what they want to do – I’d love the opportunity to play there but I also respect they have lots of good players, lots of players ranked between 120 and 160, and I haven’t been fit for the last three or four months,” Murray told BBC Sport.
“I appreciate for them they would want to see me play matches. I’ve done all the training and physically I’m fit but it is different playing matches and that’s where I obviously need to prove myself.”
The French Open qualifying tournament will start on May 24th followed by the main draw a week later. Officials are yet to reveal which players they will issue wildcards to.
Outlook Positive For French Open But Rules Could Change Again, Warns Government
There is growing hope that a significant number of spectators could be allowed to attend but it can’t be guaranteed.
A recent announcement concerning the number of spectators allowed to attend this year’s French Open should be met with caution, according to a senior government official.
Recently the French government outlined their plan for lifting the national lockdown which includes allowing fans back to sporting events. Under their current guidelines, the Grand Slam is set to welcome 1000 spectators per day initially with that number increasing to 5000 in the last five days. The reason for the increase is because the tournament takes place during the same time the country enters ‘phrase three’ of their plans which allows bigger public events providing attendees have been vaccinated or can provide a negative COVID-19 test.
The decision has brought delight to the French Tennis Federation (FFT) who delayed the start of the tournament by a week in hope they would be able to welcome more fans. Furthermore, L’Equipe has reported that up to 12,500 people could be allowed to attend the tournament should it get a ‘test event’ status.
“I am delighted that the discussions with the public authorities, the governing bodies of international tennis, our partners and broadcasters, and the ongoing work with the WTA and ATP, have made it possible for us to postpone the 2021 Roland-Garros tournament by a week. I thank them for this,” Gilles Moretton, president of the FFT said in a statement on the Roland-Garros website.
However, the FFT are not celebrating just yet amid a warning that it is still possible that rules relating to spectators could still change in the coming weeks depending on the COVID-19 pandemic. Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu has told Reuters it is possible that the latest roadmap out of lockdown could be adjusted.
“Something that may be decided today may change a week before the event, or two days before the event, depending on the evolution of the health crisis,” she said.
“If we offer this visibility to the participants and organizers today, they know that this visibility can be modified according to the evolution of the transmission of the virus.”
“I hope that there are no last-minute changes (in the health situation) and that we can work on these protocols sufficiently in advance to know where we stand,” Maracineanu added.
As for players attending the Grand Slam they have been ‘strongly advised’ not to visit any ‘Bright Red’ countries leading up to the event. In a recent email sent to players from the ATP, anybody arriving from India, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and South Africa will be required to go into a 10-day quarantine.
France’s daily Covid infection fell to an almost two-month low on average on Monday but hospitalizations increased by 132.
The French Open will start on 30 May and run until 13 June.
Ash Barty Ready To Embrace Wimbledon Bubble But Konta Hopes For Rule Change
The two top 20 players speak out about the rules that will be enforced at the grass-court major this year.
Women’s world No.1 Ash Barty says the new restrictions being implemented at this year’s Wimbledon Championships are worth it if she gets to play at the Grand Slam again.
The grass-court major is set to take place this year with players facing the strictest rules in the tournament’s history due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All participants will be required to stay within a biosecure bubble at approved hotels. Private housing will not be allowed and even those who may have a house in the city will not be allowed to stay there during their time at Wimbledon. Anybody who breaks the rules faced being disqualified from the event, as well as a fine of up to £14,000.
“It will be strange, without a doubt. But to be a little bit strange, to still be able to play Wimbledon, is certainly my preference,” Barty said following her first round win at the Madrid Open on Wednesday. “It would be a shame to not be able to play that incredible tournament.”
Last year’s Wimbledon Championships got cancelled for the first time in the Open Era due to the pandemic. Unlike the other majors it had the luxury of a pandemic insurance which helped cover the costs. Chairman Ian Hewitt said the total insurance payout amounted to £180 million.
This year there is no pandemic insurance available and officials are planning for a 25% capacity. The tournament is set to start a week after the UK is scheduled to end all of their national restrictions related to the pandemic. Although the timeline could change in the coming weeks depending on case numbers.
“We’re still a couple months away yet. Hopefully in the UK things can settle down, and some sort of normality outside would be brilliant for everyone,” Barty commented.
Konta holding on to hope
Britain’s top player Johanna Konta is less enthusiastic about the prospect of entering another bubble at her home Grand Slam. The world No.18 reached the semi-finals back in 2017 when she became the first British woman to do so since 1978.
“I’m still very hopeful that that might shift and change. As of now I’m just holding onto that hope,” she said about the prospect of having to stay in a hotel instead of her home.
Another blow to the grass season this year is the fact it’s duration has been cut by a week due to the French Open. The French Tennis Federation announced a seven-day delay in a move to maximise their chances of opening their event up to the public. France is currently in a national lockdown.
“I definitely don’t think it’s ideal for the build-up. Wimbledon has obviously lost that week, hopefully just for this year,” Konta admits. “However, I think everyone is just trying to do what’s best for themselves but overall best for the events being put on.”
Earlier this week Wimbledon conducted their annual spring press conference where they revealed plans to introduce play on the middle Sunday. AELTC chief executive Sally Bolton also played down the chances of their bubble plans being changed.
“The minimised risk environment we created for the players is a requirement from the government to bring athletes without them going into quarantine upon entry into the UK,” Bolton told reporters.
The Wimbledon Championships will start on June 28th.
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