Wimbledon and entire grass season cancelled as Covid-19 pandemic continues to rage

All England Club joined by ATP, WTA, ITF in suspending events until at least 13 July

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis
Wimbledon
Wimbledon (Photo: AELTC)

It was inevitable, but after extensive discussions between the Wimbledon Championships, the International Tennis Federation [ITF], the Association of Tennis Professional [ATP] and the Women’s Tennis Association [WTA], the news was finally confirmed today: the entire grass season will be cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement late Wednesday afternoon, Wimbledon’s management committee said:

“It is with great regret that the Main Board of the AELTC and the Committee of Management of The Championships have today decided that The Championships 2020 will be cancelled due to public health concerns linked to the coronavirus epidemic. The 134th Championships will instead be staged from 28 June to 11 July 2021.

“Uppermost in our mind has been the health and safety of all of those who come together to make Wimbledon happen—the public in the UK and visitors from around the world, our players, guests, members, staff, volunteers, partners, contractors, and local residents—as well as our broader responsibility to society’s efforts to tackle this global challenge to our way of life.

“With the likelihood that the Government’s measures will continue for many months, it is our view that we must act responsibly to protect the large numbers of people required to prepare The Championships from being at risk—from the training of ball boys and girls to thousands of officials, line judges, stewards, players, suppliers, media and contractors who convene on the AELTC Grounds—and equally to consider that the people, supplies and services legally required to stage The Championships would not be available at any point this summer, thus ruling out postponement.”

Ticket holders will receive refunds, and will be offered the chance to purchase tickets for the same day and court for The Championships 2021.

Richard Lewis, AELTC’s Chief Executive, added:

“While in some ways this has been a challenging decision, we strongly believe it is not only in the best interests of society at this time, but also provides certainty to our colleagues in international tennis given the impact on the grass court events in the UK and in Europe and the broader tennis calendar. We have appreciated the support of the LTA, and the ATP, WTA and ITF in coming to this decision.”

Almost simultaneously, the ATP and WTA confirmed that they would be extending the suspension of both men’s and women’s tours, which began with the cancellation of Indian Wells and Miami last month, until at least 13 July. With the exception of the French Open, which land-grabbed a fortnight after the US Open in September, the pandemic emergency will thus be in effect for almost five months, embracing the entire clay and grass seasons.

The ATP chairman, Andrea Gaudenzi, said:

“Regrettably, the ongoing Covid-19 global pandemic leaves us with no choice but to suspend the Tour further… We will do everything we can for the Tour to resume at the earliest opportunity once it is safe to do so.

“This was a decision that the WTA and its members did not take lightly, however we remain vigilant in protecting the health and safety of our players, staff and fans.”

It is an extraordinary, albeit entirely understandable and predictable, decision. Wimbledon, the oldest Major tennis championship in the world, has been played every year since 1877—the women’s tournament since 1884—except during the two world wars: four years from 1915 to 1918, and six years from 1940 to 1945.

But then these are extraordinary times, when even the Olympic Games, which were scheduled to begin a fortnight after Wimbledon, were forced to postpone to 2021. For the Games, too, only two world wars have brought previous cancellations.

However, many questions follow such sweeping actions. While Wimbledon paid big to assure itself of protection from just such a scenario—insurance against a pandemic—there will be others that lose revenue on a vast scale, from ticket sales, sponsorship, and broadcasting rights.

Ralf Weber, the Director of one of the grass swing’s bigger tournaments, the Noventi Open in Halle, quickly announced that the event’s sponsor—which happens to be in the key pharmaceutical sector—had confirmed the renewal of its support for another three-year term until 2023.

Perhaps just as noteworthy, Weber went on to quote 10-time Halle champion, Roger Federer as saying, “We are experiencing difficult times, however we will emerge strengthened from this. Already today I am happy about my return to Halle next year. Stay healthy!”

By then, Federer, who has not played since the Australian Open after undergoing knee surgery, will be closing in on his 40th birthday, and may well rue the loss of opportunities to win one more Wimbledon title and singles gold in the Olympics more than most.

Time is not on his side, and the same may be said of Serena Williams, who will also be approaching her 40th birthday next summer. She is just one Major title short of Margaret Court’s all-time record 24, and like Federer, has enjoyed particular success on Wimbledon’s grass with seven singles titles to the Swiss star’s eight. No wonder each tweeted their reaction to Wimbledon’s news.

Federer: “Devastated. ‘There is no gif for these things that I am feeling’.”

Williams: “I’m shocked.”

What about the rest of the tennis year?

The latter half of July usually sees a brief clay sojourn across Europe, but with still-growing rates of infection and fatalities across the board, only the most optimistic of punters would predict a resumption of play by then.

And beyond that, the US Open swing begins to crank up via two high-profile Masters in North America and culminating in the US Open itself in New York at the end of August. A stark reminder of just how deep is the crisis in the USA came with the announcement this week that the indoor facilities of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre—home of the US Open—are being converted into a temporary hospital.

So the problems and the questions mount up. The USTA has already cast doubts on the viability of hosting the biggest sporting event in tennis, which is a sport that draws players and fans across borders from every corner of the globe:

“We understand the unique circumstances facing the AELTC and the reasoning behind the decision to cancel the 2020 Wimbledon Championships. At this time, the USTA still has plans to host the US Open as scheduled, and we continue to hone plans to stage the tournament. The USTA is carefully monitoring the rapidly-changing environment surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic and is preparing for all contingencies…”

And what of the financial impact on players and the teams on which they are dependent? Many of the lower ranked men and women, plus those young players just embarking on the main tours, will be unable to earn money or ranking points—and how will the professional bodies resolve the inertia in those ranks?

And even if some tournaments do get underway in Asia by the autumn, how can the ATP and WTA resolve the issue of qualification for their end-of-year showpieces? With so few tournaments available in 2020, would the top eight come last October be representative of the best players of the year? Will, in short, the swansong of the ATP Finals’ decade of residency in London become a dead duck?

Of course, for now, and for the millions facing the everyday ravages of lockdowns and lost loved ones, these questions carry little significance. After all, today’s decision by Wimbledon gives, indirectly, a real sense of proportion. Only world wars and Covid-19 have closed the doors on London’s famous lawns.

Cancelled events in grass season

8 June—Stuttgart, s-Hertogenbosch, Nottingham

15 June—Halle, Queen’s, Birmingham, Berlin

21 June—Mallorca, Eastbourne, Bad Homburg

29 June—Wimbledon

What follows…

13 July-2 August, WTA and ATP clay swing

[25 July-2 August, Olympics cancelled

27 July-29 August—US Open Series: Atlanta, San Jose, Washington, Montreal/Toronto, Cincinnati, Albany, Winston-Salem

31 August: US Open

20 September: French Open

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