First suspended until the beginning of May, then until July 13th, it is said that the ATP, WTA and ITF tours might not resume until August 3rd, for the start of the American hard-court swing. What could the remaining of the 2020 look like from then?
After the clay season and the grass season, involving Wimbledon, it is now the beginning of the summer swing that is threatened by Covid-19. According to the Spanish magazine MARCA, tournaments might be suspended even further until August 3rd – which would mean the cancellation of Hamburg (ATP 500), Kitzbühel (ATP 250), Bucharest and Palermo (WTA International), amongst others. This is an unsurprising decision considering the current global context – but will it be possible for the tour to resume on August 3rd in America, with the US Open in sight, considering the United States is currently the country the most affected by the coronavirus? Nothing is certain.
US Open to be relocated and clay season to happen in September?
It almost seems impossible to know how the health crisis will evolve. In these uncertain times, tennis bodies are doing their best to try and find solutions to allow competition to resume before the end of the year.
One option could be to relocate tournaments in areas less affected by Covid-19. A part of the US Open site is currently used as a makeshift hospital and New York is battling the pandemic. As a consequence, the last Grand Slam of the season might be moved, either at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, in California, or at the Lindner Family Tennis Center, in Ohio, both of these venues being homes of a Masters 1000. But is it realistically doable? Would a tournament behind closed doors in New York be better?
With the calendar consequently updated, a short clay season might take place at the end of summer. Officially postponed to September 20th, the French Open will, in fact, reportedly start on the 27th, according to Le Parisien. It would allow players to train and compete on clay beforehand, at the Masters 1000 of Madrid and Rome.
As for the hypothetical schedule for the remainder of the year, it’s still unclear. Should tournaments be held in Asia, where the pandemic started but the situation seems now under control? Or is it better to cut it down to the usual European indoor swing? And what about the ATP Finals and Davis Cup? So many unanswered questions.
Regionalised circuits and tournaments
The pandemic prevents people from travelling worldwide, which increases the complexity and uncertainty of the tennis situation. How could the season, involving weekly trips, resume when the Covid-19 crisis doesn’t evolve simultaneously in all countries? Therefore, some European nations are thinking about organising national competitions, which would be a way for players to compete again as soon as national lockdowns will be lifted or relaxed.
In Germany, players have been back on court since May 1st thanks to a four-day exhibition, taking place at the Base Tennis club in Höhr-Grenzhausen, near Koblenz, and held behind closed doors. Matches are broadcast by Tennis Channel on its streaming platform Over The Top. Eight players, including Yannick Hanfmann (n°143, the highest ranked) and Dustin Brown (n°239), compete in a best of three sets and first to 4 games format. Two other sessions of this event, called Tennis Point Exhibition Series, are to take place between May 7-10 and May 14-17).
In France, Thierry Ascione – Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s coach and Lyon tournament’s director – plans to hold, in the south of France, a month and a half long clay-court swing in July and August, for French players. The goal is to help French tennis and players, as well as tourism in the area. The project already has the support of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Lucas Pouille, Grégoire Barrère and Jérémy Chardy. Other players living around the region, such as Novak Djokovic, Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev, all ranked in the top 10, might be interested and invited to play.
Spain also considers organising something similar, with the possible involvement of Rafael Nadal, and a six-week exhibition tournament should be held in Austria (from May 25th) and Germany (from June 8th).
Mouratoglou’s “Ultimate Tennis Showdown”
Some use this period as an opportunity to try new concepts to develop the sport: Patrick Mouratoglou has launched the “Ultimate Tennis Showdown” (UTS) league, which will be taking place behind closed doors in his academy near Nice (France). Ten players, including David Goffin, Alexei Popyrin, Benoît Paire and Fabio Fognini, will compete during five weekends, from May 16, playing a total of 50 matches (10 per weekend). Mouratoglou had several goals when he created this event: firstly, provide live matches to tennis fans during the pandemic and, secondly, innovate by relaxing the code of conduct and implementing on-court coaching. He has for ambition to make it an annual event, with points and prize money for the players, but most importantly to promote his vision of tennis.
The tour may be on hold for a long and indefinite period, but the numerous initiatives will certainly allow many players come back on court earlier than expected.