Madrid Open cancelled in latest blow to 2020 tennis schedule

First tour event since end of February began this week for women in Palermo

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis
Novak Djokovic is defending champion at the Mutua Madrid Open (Photo: Marianne Bevis)
Novak Djokovic is defending champion at the Mutua Madrid Open (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

With the revelations on Saturday of the discussions between the organisers of the Mutua Madrid Open and the regional health authorities, it became clear that the tournament was in deep water.

Update: Nadal, defending champion, has formally pulled out of the US Open.

Due to an increase in cases of Covid-19 in Madrid in recent days, the various parties had all but reached the conclusion that the city could not stage the event and guarantee the necessary safety protocols for players, fans and staff within the ‘tournament bubble’.

Sure enough, the official decision has now been announced: the tournament has been cancelled for 2020.

Initially scheduled to take place from 1 to 10 May during the traditional European spring clay swing, the ATP and WTA approved a new date in mid-September for the prestigious Madrid Masters and Premier Mandatory ahead of the rescheduled Italian Open and Roland Garros.

The Madrid statement said:

“Following the strong recommendation of the local health authorities, and having monitored the situation for months, the organisers of the Mutua Madrid Open have no choice but to cancel the tournament due to the complex situation that COVID-19 continues to generate in every regard.

“In addition, and after a spike in COVID-19 cases, the Community of Madrid announced a few days ago a number of new measures to control the virus’s spread, including a directive that social gatherings are to be reduced to 10 people, both in public and private meetings, further reducing the feasibility of operating the tournament.”

The tournament director, former world No12 Feliciano Lopez—who just a year ago won the Queen’s singles title, plus the doubles title alongside Andy Murray—added:

“We have given our all to stage the tournament. After the first cancellation in May, we got to work on the September date with the hope of being able to enjoy first-class tennis in the Caja Mágica during this year which has been so hard for everyone. However, the continued instability is still too great to hold a tournament like this in complete safety.”

The Mutua Madrid Open was the last of the WTA’s four top-flight Premier Mandatories to remain on the schedule after the Asian swing, and with it the China Open, were abandoned last month.

Meanwhile, the only Masters and Premier 5s left on the men’s or women’s tours are Cincinnati—which is pushing ahead at the USTA HQ at Flushing Meadows in the week before the US Open—Rome, with the ATP Masters in Paris in November still on the cards.

The Italian Open is scheduled, as usual, immediately before Roland Garros, but amid rising coronavirus concerns there too, it will now be held behind closed doors.

The French Open, however, is expecting to be at more than 50 percent capacity amid stringent controls when the tournament hopes to begin in Paris on 27 September.

The biggest test of safety protocols, however, will come in New York at the end of August, where both the Cincinnati tournament and the US Open will be held behind closed doors at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center. Lock-down arrangements will require repeated testing of players and their limited teams before and after they arrive in New York, and will forbid any break-out time in Manhattan or the environs.

The organisers have put into place special wavers for participants to enter the USA without quarantine, but already a number of high-profile players have opted to stay away, including women’s No1 Ash Barty.

Both tours have organized their ranking points so that any player concerned about travel to, or playing in, certain cities and tournaments will not be penalized: they will retain the points won last year, or substitute a better result this year if they do choose to play. For example, Rafael Nadal won the US Open last year, so even if he opts to play this year, he cannot earn more points than he already has.

There has, despite continued gloom and uncertainty, been a glimmer of light on the tennis scene this week: the women’s tour returned with its first tournament in over five months in Palermo, Sicily, though Halep and Belinda Bencic dropped out just before the tournament, leaving No15 Petra Martic as the top seed.

The tournament, along with the Prague Open next week, is played on clay, and is among a clutch of other clay events still on the women’s radar ahead of Roland Garros, including Istanbul, Strasbourg and Rome.

Thereafter, there are thin pickings indeed for WTA players until the end of 2020, with Linz and Moscow still holding on by their fingernails—though the coronavirus may yet have the final word.

As for the men, and aside from a few exhibition events to warm up the competitive juices, there have been scant points on the table: the first formal event, indeed, is Cincinnati [in New York].

With the Shanghai Masters already cancelled, just Rome and Paris Bercy remain on the Masters schedule, along with the ATP Finals for the top eight—if it goes ahead.

But Paris, the ATP Finals, and the only other remaining men’s events that do not clash with the rescheduled French Open—Moscow, Stockholm, Antwerp, Vienna, and the NextGen Finals—are all played indoors. Even if they get the green light—and rising infection levels in many parts of Europe make that a big ‘if’—it looks inevitable that they will all be held behind closed doors.

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