Tennis closes down in face of Covid-19: Miami, Monte-Carlo, Barcelona among events cancelled

Clay season faces uncertainty, as Spanish and Italian capitals Madrid and Rome fight virus

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis
Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

It was only a matter of time until the coronavirus pandemic took its toll on major sporting events, and especially on those sports that travel across the entire globe.

Many predicted that the biggest tennis events outside the four Majors—the Masters and Premier Mandatories in Indian Wells and then Miami—would be abandoned, even though the eventual announcements came too late for players, teams, media and many fans to change their expensive plans.

But these two events have at least agreed to reimburse tickets holders, and that is a welcome pattern followed thus far by the subsequent events to be suspended.

For the men’s professional body, the ATP, and the International Tennis Federation both followed the announcements from Indian Wells and Miami with press releases of more cancellations.

The ATP’s was the most comprehensive: a six-week suspension of the men’s Main Tour and Challenger Tour events scheduled up to and inclusive of the week of 20 April.

ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said:

“This is not a decision that was taken lightly and it represents a great loss for our tournaments, players, and fans worldwide…. The worldwide nature of our sport and the international travel required presents significant risks and challenges in today’s circumstances, as do the increasingly restrictive directives issued by local authorities.”

This was followed by the ITF, and with immediate effect on matches already scheduled:

“The ITF is taking the precautionary measure to postpone all ITF-owned and sanctioned events, across the men’s and women’s ITF World Tennis Tour… This will be reviewed on a weekly basis but no ITF events will take place until at least the week of Monday 20 April.”

Meanwhile, the WTA opted not to take the same blanket approach but to take decisions on a tournament-by-tournament basis. In practice, Miami’s suspension was followed by the Charleston Premier, just up the east coast from Miami, and by the Bogota International—unavoidable decisions given the travel restrictions imposed by the countries involved.

WTA CEO Steve Simon said:

“Due to safety and health concerns surrounding the coronavirus, as well as the travel restrictions imposed on entering the United States from Europe, the Miami Open and Volvo Car Open in Charleston will not be held.

The WTA went on to add:

“The local and national Colombian governments took measures today to cancel all public and private sports events of more than 500 people, as well as impose international border closures and travel restrictions due to the coronavirus outbreak. As such, the Copa Colsanitas in Bogota will not be held.”

Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic (Photo: Jordan Mansfield for The Boodles)

And the decisions emerging from almost every country in the world suggest that these scenarios are only the beginning for every individual, business, and social interaction. Little wonder that the ITF announcement concluded:

“It is not possible to predict the length of time that tennis as a whole will be affected by Covid-19, but we will continue to monitor the situation and act accordingly.”

Now that the World Health Organisation [WHO] has formally declared this to be a global pandemic, there are few places that have not instigated border and travel restrictions—among them, President Trump’s announcement of a 30-day travel ban between the USA and Europe.

In the UK, where controls are, thus far, less stringent than in many other European countries, computer simulations indicate that the peak will not hit for a couple of months yet. Meanwhile, relatively close neighbours such as, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and most particularly Italy and Spain, are heavily affected, with little sign of abeyance.

So it is probably with a mix of relief and concern that players, their teams, and their fans found out that the first events scheduled after the March-packed double-header of Indian Wells and Miami have been abandoned.

So what has already been called off?

Men’s tour [up to and including w/b 20 April]

Indian Wells Masters

Miami Masters

Houston 250

Marrakech 250

Monte-Carlo Masters

Barcelona 500

Budapest 250

Plus Challengers in Kazakhstan and South Africa

Women’s tour [up to 20 April]

Indian Wells Premier Mandatory

Miami Premier Mandatory

Charleston Premier

Bogota International

Guadalajara 125

ITF [up to 20 April]

Fed Cup Finals in Budapest and Fed Cup Play-Offs at eight locations around the world.

All junior, senior, and wheelchair tournaments

But what lies ahead?

There have to be big question marks over many more of the tournaments scheduled for April and into May, since it looks unlikely there will be a significant reduction of the virus and its impact in any of the countries hosting the extensive clay swing.

In the month between the current optimistic suspension period and the next Major in the calendar, the French Open in Paris—in around 10 weeks’ time—there are seven WTA and six ATP tournaments, and that is without including non-Main-Tour activity.

And a quick run-down of where some of those events are due to be played makes for uncomfortable reading [figures as at Friday 13 March]:

· Munich and Stuttgart: Germany has 2,369 cases and 6 deaths, with an accelerating rate.

· Lyon and Strasbourg: France has 2,860 cases, 61 deaths, and increasing closures.

· Geneva: Switzerland: 858 cases with 6 deaths.

· Prague: The Czech Rep has closed its borders, as have Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria.

And then there are Rome and Spain, hosts to a pair of the biggest combined men’s and women’s events in the calendar. And in both Spain and Italy, the numbers continue to strike fear for potential participants and visitors, with both countries declaring a state of emergency.

The first, the Mutua Madrid Open, is due to get under way in around seven weeks’ time: Spain has the second-highest number of cases in Europe, with 4,209 confirmed—up by about 1,000 from Thursday and seven times as much as on Sunday. Around 120 people have died.

A week later, it is the turn of Rome: Italy has 15,113 cases, and in the last 24 hours alone, the death toll has risen by 189 to 1,016.

Against such a backdrop, with the tennis tour concentrated for such an intense period in what the WHO has today proclaimed to now be the epicentre of the pandemic, that late April ‘marker’ will surely be moved into May—and perhaps well beyond.

Will the French Open be under threat? If the UK is still two months off its peak infection rate, can the grass swing be unaffected?

Many uncertainties for the coming months, then, along with questions about how rankings will be managed if there is no opportunity to win points. Will the ATP and WTA suspend the ranks where they are? Will points from unplayed events fall off as usual?

However, perhaps the toughest question of all is, how will lower-ranked players and their support networks, the ones who barely make enough to keep afloat under normal conditions, manage if they are unable to win prize-money? And will the tournaments themselves survive the financial hit of ticket refunds?

Yet underlying all this uncertainty, there is one clear certainty. As the ATP’s statement put it:

“We believe this is the responsible action needed at this time in order to protect the health and safety of our players, staff, the wider tennis community and general public health in the face of this global pandemic.”

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