Tennis launches $6m Player Relief Programme for ranks most hit by Covid-19

Meanwhile, doubts hang over 2020 calendar, including the Majors

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

Tennis’s seven professional bodies have joined together to announce a Player Relief Programme, currently comprising $6 million (around £4.8 million), to support players who are most affected by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

The initiative has seen the ATP, WTA, International Tennis Federation, and the four Grand Slam tournaments—the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open—unite in a show of support to players who are facing unprecedented challenges due to the global impact of the coronavirus.

The ATP and WTA will administer the financial distribution of the fund equally between men and women, and will target approximately 800 ATP and WTA singles and doubles players altogether. Eligibility will take into account a player’s ranking as well as previous prize money earnings according to criteria agreed by all stakeholders.

The move by the seven organisations provides the financial backbone of the Programme, with opportunities for additional contributions to follow, such as those raised through player auctions and donations, virtual tennis games and more.

The joint statement concludes:

“The creation of the Player Relief Programme is a positive demonstration of the sport’s ability to come together during this time of crisis. We will continue to collaborate and monitor the support required across tennis with the aim of ensuring the long-term health of the sport in the midst of this unprecedented challenge to our way of life, and our thoughts remain with all those affected at this time.”

Professional tennis was halted ahead of the combined Indian Wells Masters/Premier, scheduled for the first fortnight in March, and the tours are currently suspended until at least 13 July 2020.

Wimbledon and the Olympics are the biggest casualties thus far, amid the cancellation of the entire grass season and the whole clay swing that usually culminates in Paris at Roland Garros in June.

The French Major took the decision two months ago to relocate to September, where it was originally set to begin just a week after the US Open, though there remain serious doubts about the playing of both events.

And it has now been reported by Reuters that the French tennis authorities are looking for a further change. A French tennis federation spokesman said:

“We took the decision in mid-March to postpone Roland Garros from 20 September to 4 October. Since then, we have been discussing with the international bodies of the various circuits (ITF, WTA, ATP) the optimum calendar for the second part of the season, which will be finalised with the various stakeholders very soon.”

The suggestion is that the tournament be pushed back a further week to create a two-week gap between it and the US Open, with Roland Garros running from 27 September until 11 October, and qualifying from 21-25 September.

And while the Laver Cup, slated during this fortnight, has already been abandoned until 2021, this rescheduling will have an impact another set of tournaments in the Asian swing, notably the WTA’s Premier Mandatory in Beijing and the ATP’s 500s in Tokyo and Beijing, and possibly also impacting on the Shanghai Masters.

The United States Tennis Association is expected to announce its plans next month, but meanwhile, Tennis Australia is already making contingency plans in case the 2021 Australian Open is unable to go ahead in its usual format in January.

As reported in The Age, CEO Craig Tiley said they were preparing for the possibility that international players will have to undergo quarantine, or for the tournament to go ahead without fans in the stadiums.

“There is just so much uncertainty as to what is going to happen in the next month let alone the next eight months,” Tiley said in a statement.

“These extraordinary times dictate a need for agility and extensive planning that explores a very wide range of options.

“We have to be prepared for a changed environment. We obviously hope that as a community, we are through Covid-19 as quickly and safely as is possible. But we don’t know which of the current measures being used to try and contain the spread of infection will still need to be in place for the medium to long term.

“For example, with such a high-dependency on international travel we are looking at what we might have to do if players need to be quarantined for any length of time before being allowed to freely move around Australia.

“Another example is if mass gatherings are still not allowed or severely restricted next year, we are looking at the possibility of running an event for broadcast. These are just two of many scenarios we have to examine.”

More imminent is a decision on the small collection of clay events scheduled immediately after Wimbledon, but it will surprise few if the suspensions and cancellations extend well beyond early August. Already, the WTA Premier in Montreal in August has been abandoned.

Indeed Rafael Nadal, in an interview for El Pais, admitted that he saw little hope of playing this year. Asked if his fans could expect to see him on a tennis court this year, he said:

“I wish, but I doubt it. I am more concerned about the Australian Open than about what will happen at the end of this year. I see 2020 pretty much as a lost year. I have the hope of starting again next year. Let’s hope it is so.”

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