This year has presented some major challenges for the sports industry, with many major events being cancelled as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Tennis didn’t escape the disruption, losing some of its major tournaments on the world tour – most notably Wimbledon.
However, tennis is adapting to the changes caused by the pandemic and while some events this year have been cancelled or postponed, others have been able to go ahead, with strict safety protocols in place.
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Throughout the year, the Lawn Tennis Association has been in talks with the government to establish what the Covid-19 restrictions mean for tennis. Aside from the pro-tournaments being disrupted, tennis is a popular sport for amateur players to keep fit and socialise.
The LTA says it’s a sporting activity where close contact can be avoided and has been instrumental in drawing up guidelines so people can continue playing. While no-one can be sure what 2021 holds for tennis, the industry is battling back.
Which tournaments were cancelled in 2020?
It was a major blow when the 134th Wimbledon Championship had to be cancelled by the All England Board. The event was due to take place between 29th June and 12th July. However, with the first national lockdown in place from March, the board announced the cancellation by 1st April.
It was the first time Wimbledon had been cancelled since 1945, during World War 2. Since the tournament was launched in 1877, there were only three periods in history when it didn’t take place.
Due to the Great War, it was cancelled in 1915, resuming in 1919 after the conflict had ended. It was cancelled again during WW2, between 1939 and 1945, when a total of 16 bombs struck the All England Club.
Then, it was cancelled this year, due to the coronavirus crisis. It was decided not to postpone it until later in 2020, due to government concerns about the health risks of mass gatherings. Wimbledon is due to resume in 2021, from 28th June to 11th July.
Other tennis tournaments cancelled this year included the Zhengzhou Open at Central Plains Tennis Centre in China and the Swiss Indoor Championship in Basel. The Women’s Tennis Association, the Association of Tennis Professionals and the International Tennis Federation postponed their spring tours until August.
The Roland-Garros French Open was postponed in May, but eventually went ahead from 27th September to 11th October at Stade Roland Garros in Paris. Strict protocols protected people from the spread of coronavirus, including limiting the capacity of the three main courts to 11,500 spectators. Matches on other courts took place without spectators.
The US Open took place as planned from 31st August to 13th September, but with strict safety procedures in place. There were no spectators for the first time in the tournament’s history and the reigning men’s and women’s singles champions, Rafael Nadal and Bianca Andreescu, decided not to compete.
The impact of Covid-19 wasn’t all negative – back in April, the Virtual Madrid Open was organised to raise money for charity. The event took place online, with 32 players, including the former world number one Andy Murray, competing for prize money of £264,000. The winners chose the beneficiaries, some of whom were people who relied on the pro tennis circuit to make a living.
Did any tennis stars catch coronavirus?
In June, the world number one men’s singles player, Novak Djokovic, 33, tested positive for coronavirus, after playing on the Adria Tour. The mini-tournament took place in a number of cities across Serbia and Croatia.
Tournament organiser Djokovic and several other players performed in front of packed stands during the exhibition tournament. He said it was born as a result of his philanthropic idea to raise money for people in need. He also said it was aimed at uniting people and “sharing a message of solidarity and compassion”.
However, the event was widely criticised because of its lack of social distancing and other safety measures. Several other players, including Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, Croatian player Borna Coric and Viktor Troicki of Serbia, plus two coaches, also tested positive for the virus.
After the outbreak, Djokovic issued a public apology and said he had done everything with a “pure heart and sincere intentions”. He added he was “extremely sorry” for every case of the infection caught at his tournament. It took place at a time when almost every other sporting event in the world was cancelled, or played without spectators.
Were they able to play again after isolating?
Djokovic said he was not showing any symptoms of the virus, although he had to self-isolate for two weeks. He has apparently made a full recovery. However, he was defeated in straight sets by Daniil Medvedev at the ATP Finals in November.
Dimitrov, 29, in an interview with the BBC on 13th November, described how the virus was “very unpredictable” and had “lingered for a while”. After testing negative, he competed in the US Open, but complained of feeling fatigued and was knocked out in the second round. He said, with hindsight, he shouldn’t have gone to the US, as his recovery had been “two steps forward and one step back”.
Troicki, 34, returned to play in the French Open in September, but appeared below par, going out 6-0, 6-2 to Frederico Ferreira Silva in the first qualifying round.
Coric, 24, said he was “feeling well” and “experiencing no symptoms” after his positive coronavirus test. However, like his fellow players, he had to self-isolate for 14 days.
Another sporting event that fell victim to the pandemic was the 2020 Summer Olympics. It will now take place next year in Tokyo, from 23rd July until 8th August, although it will still be known as the 2020 Summer Olympics.
The Olympic tennis tournament will take place from Saturday 24th July until Sunday 1st August 2021. The format will remain the same as the 2020 event, featuring 172 players in five events, including men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles and mixed doubles.
Qualification for the singles competitions will be based primarily on the world rankings on 7th June 2021. It follows that some players who would have taken part this year may not be there for the tournament if their world rankings drop in the next six months.
The coronavirus will remain a moment to mark in sporting history long after it’s over, as it has caused the biggest disruption to tennis and other sports since World War 2.
Can the public play tennis again now?
The Lawn Tennis Association has drawn up new guidelines for people wishing to play tennis since the second UK lockdown ended on 2nd December. Although public courts are now open again in tiers one, two and three, every club has to adhere to stringent health and safety measures.
Tennis venues must promote the hygiene and Covid-19 safety measures they have in place to help reassure players about their return.
Venues that have been closed for some time should make sure the courts are properly maintained, such as having them cleaned and lined and marked. Several weeks of inactivity may mean they require some extra attention for the best user experience.