What’s Next After Indian Wells Cancellation?

WASHINGTON, March 10, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

It’s been less than 48 hours since the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., one of the most prestigious events on the professional tennis calendar, was canceled. There has been plenty of anxiety over the spreading coronavirus in the United States and worldwide, which has cost tennis the first of what could be many more tournaments.

Make no mistake, the cancellation of Indian Wells, an ATP Masters 1000 and WTA Premier Mandatory tournament – dubbed the “fifth Grand Slam” – with $17 million in prize money that’s owned by billionaire American business magnate Larry Ellison, was major news in the sports world on Monday. It was all over social media and discussed on television and radio and in newspapers across the United States. In fact, the BNP Paribas Open sent notification Sunday night that the tournament would not be held as scheduled by using social media channel Twitter, linking its tweet to a statement on its website.

On Monday afternoon, ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi issued a statement on the 2020 BNP Paribas Open not being held:

“While we regret that the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells will not take place, the ATP Tour calendar beyond Indian Wells remains as status quo. We continue to monitor the situation daily, working closely with our player and tournament members with the understanding that direction must be taken from local public health authorities. We are committed to exploring all options for the operation of upcoming tournaments as the health and safety of our players and all other stakeholders remain our top priority. Any further updates will be communicated on ATP platforms.”

Understandably, fans are disappointed by the cancellation – some are calling it an overreaction instead of a decision made with the right intentions – and some players expressed frustration with how the decision was communicated to them. Even the media are chiming in, too. ESPN tennis commentator Chris Fowler tweeted: “Major events being called off day by day. Feels unprecedented in our lifetimes. What’s next?”

A day after the Indian Wells cancellation was announced, the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Coachella Valley where the tournament is held had increased from one to six. With the Miami Open scheduled to begin in two weeks followed by tournaments in Charleston and Houston soon after – not to mention the upcoming European spring clay season in Monte Carlo, Madrid and Rome – every event could be in danger of cancellation or be played in empty stadiums without spectators. Also, up in the air is the matter of ranking points for players and distribution of prize money.

Kristi Ahn of the United States, ranked 96th in the world, had received a wild card to play in the women’s singles draw at Indian Wells. A member of the WTA’s player council, Ahn told The New York Times on Monday, “I think they (the Indian Wells tournament officials) did everything they could, but all of a sudden the situation changed overnight, which is unfortunate. We can’t be mad at them for what, I think, is ultimately the right decision.”

On Monday, following the cancellation of the BNP Paribas Open, tournament organizers in Indian Wells made a rapid effort to accommodate players who had already arrived in the scenic palm desert site by guaranteeing players in the main draw singles and doubles events and in the qualifying singles draw complimentary lodging as well as access to practice courts – even medical and laundry service – through March 16. As New York Times tennis correspondent Christopher Clarey tweeted: “Will feel like the run-up to a tournament, only this time there’s no tournament.”

Ted Robinson, a longtime Tennis Channel broadcaster, who was scheduled to provide play-by-play commentary on many of the main stadium matches from Indian Wells for a mostly U.S. audience, called the developments an “unprecedented shakeup to tennis.”  In an email interview with Tennis TourTalk Monday evening, he said that “ranking points, unexpected hole in the schedules of players, lost opportunities for those defending points, looking to come back, taking advantage of a wild card like Jack Sock … the answers to these unknowns will be fascinating.”

The Miami Open, which is the next tour-level stop for both the ATP and WTA tours, is moving ahead as scheduled. On Monday, tournament organizers issued a statement:

“The 2020 Miami Open is moving forward as scheduled, March 23 – April 5. Safety remains a top priority, and we are monitoring the COVID-19 situation closely with local, state and federal officials and health organizations in the lead up to the tournament. In addition, we are working with the ATP and WTA tours on recommended best practices and following CDC guidelines closely to provide a safe environment for fans, players and staff.”

Meanwhile, Robinson said the cancellation of Indian Wells places unintended consequences on other tournaments. “Does this place ‘pressure’ on Miami, Charleston and Houston, all scheduled to host tennis events in the next month? Not to speak of Rome, as many already have pointed out, where Italy has just cancelled all sporting events for the month of March.

“Many minds have likely addressed the possibility of finding a ‘window’ within 2020 to stage IW, but like many, I can’t see a feasible time, especially in an Olympic year.” 

Stay tuned.

What they’re tweeting

Matt Roberts, co-host, The Tennis Podcast:

Brad Gilbert, former player and coach turned ESPN tennis analyst:

Nicole Gibbs, U.S. pro tennis player currently ranked No. 148: