WASHINGTON, March 14, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)
It’s been less than one week since the cancellation of the BNP Paribas Open and just three days since the ATP Tour suspended pro tournaments for six weeks until April 27 (which includes cancellation of the Miami Open, and upcoming events in Houston, Marrakech, Monte Carlo and Budapest) because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. One of the biggest talking points that has yet to be addressed by the ATP, ITF or WTA – the governing bodies of pro tennis – is how rankings points and earnings will be handled during the sport’s hiatus. After all, players don’t earn points or money if they don’t play. And, who knows if tennis will be able to resume as soon as it hopes? Everything right now is day-to-day, very fluid.
Fifty-ninth-ranked Jeremy Chardy of France, who resides in London with his wife, Susan, and their newborn child, said he wants rankings points earned from previous tournaments to not drop off while no tournaments are being played.
In a recent interview with French sports daily L’Equipe, Chardy, 33, said: “I no longer know, actually, if I am unemployed, on paternity leave, or a tennis player. Many players want to talk about it. It’s not our fault what’s going on. If many tournaments are canceled, it can be difficult tif you’re not an employee. And for ATP points, it can also be complicated.”
Chardy’s first reaction to the cancelation of Indian Wells was that he thought it was a joke. “But the ATP came and confirmed it. Nobody was expecting it.” Now, he realizes, it was the right move – but with it comes consequences.
“The whole economy suffers, and we also suffer. If we cancel our fifth biggest tournament like this, it’s because we expect we are going to have difficult moments.”
Players are used to dealing with layoffs from an injury. However, in this case, everyone is impacted – from players and coaches to tournament organizers, and from event staff to media. While there are dates when the ATP, ITF and WTA expect to resume play, things could change. In the meantime, there’s confusion, a bit of fear, and, a few players who are availing themselves to giving tennis lessons to make ends meet.
Comme nous l’avions annoncé, le Comité directeur de l’ATP a décidé de suspendre le circuit international pendant six semaines à cause de la pandémie de coronavirus https://t.co/bSNQ2EM6UA pic.twitter.com/SHeRRbdcoN
— L’ÉQUIPE (@lequipe) March 12, 2020
A tale of two chief executives
On Thursday, the chief executives of both the ATP and WTA, Andrea Gaudenzi and Steve Simon, reacted to the novel coronavirus outbreak, which has virtually shut down the entire professional sports world. Gaudenzi suspended the ATP Tour for six weeks following the announcement that the Miami Open had been cancelled, while Simon, after the Volvo Car Open in Charleston, S.C. had been cancelled, only went so far as to announce the WTA would suspend play through tournaments scheduled the week of April 6. He said he would make a decision next week regarding the European clay season. Meanwhile, the ITF already had called off the Fed Cup Finals in Budapest and Fed Cup Playoffs in cities around the world, scheduled for the week of April 13.
Here are the statements that Gaudenzi and Simon released on Thursday:
• Andrea Gaudenzi, ATP Chairman: “This is not a decision that was taken lightly and it represents a great loss for our tournaments, players, and fans worldwide. However we believe this is the responsible action needed at this time in order to protect the health and safety of our players, staff, the wider tennis community and general public health in the face of this global pandemic. The worldwide nature of our sport and the international travel required presents significant risks and challenges in today’s circumstances, as do the increasingly restrictive directives issued by local authorities. We continue to monitor this on a daily basis and we look forward to the Tour resuming when the situation improves. In the meantime, our thoughts and well-wishes are with all those that have been affected by the virus.”
• Steve Simon, WTA CEO and Chairman: “There isn’t anything more important than protecting the health of our players, staff, volunteers, and fans who attend our events, along with the general public. We are disappointed but the decision has been made in the interest of public health and safety, which is the top priority. The WTA, working alongside our player and tournament leaders, will make a decision in the week ahead regarding the European clay court season.”
Finding financial relief for lower-ranked players
For lower-ranked players, opportunities missed by not playing, is proving to be a major concern. While superstar players such as Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Serena Williams easily make millions of dollars season after season – and each has lucrative endorsements away from the court – for many rank-and-file players, tennis is their livelihood. One question that’s being asked is will the tour provide any financial support for them while they are away from the court?
“That’s a great question,” said Jon Wertheim, who writes about tennis for Sports Illustrated and is a Tennis Channel commentator. He addressed the question Friday during a Tennis Channel Live program broadcast in the U.S. “That is something that is being discussed behind closed doors.
“I had an agent write to me today and he has a proposal for both tours using the revenues from the year-end events – the ATP year-end final and the WTA year-end final – using that money, which is millions and millions of dollars to set up some sort of a fund for the players. The agent makes the point – and I think it’s valid – that we hear about the superstars and they lead glamorous lives and they’re entitled to everything they make. This isn’t a criticism, but one tier below are players that are really week-to-week. When you say you’re going to miss six weeks of earnings and money made playing tennis, that’s six weeks of tournaments you’re not able to afford. In theory, you’re still paying coaches, still paying stringers, and you’re going to have expenses but no revenues coming in. That makes a big dent for a lot of players. So, I hear that there are some proposals on the table for setting up some sort of fund for run of the mill players.
Will be in New York for some time. Giving some select lessons during this time if anyone interested. Serious inquiries only. Let me know!
— Noah Rubin (@Noahrubin33) March 12, 2020
Friday was teen-aged sensation Coco Gauff’s sixteenth birthday. Now that she’s a year older, she can play in more tour-level tournaments per WTA guidelines. She tweeted: “Thanks for all the wonderful birthday wishes ❤️🙌🏾 #sweet16
— Teen Vogue (@TeenVogue) March 13, 2020
What players are tweeting
Many players have taken to social media channels this week to update their fans. Here’s a sample:
• Stan Wawrinka
Leaving LA to head back home for a while. These are weird times and we have no idea what to expect next. I hope you are all staying safe!! I’m thinking of course a lot of all those in our world who have put months of work into events that are now cancelled & to the fans who were pic.twitter.com/VUTRKWRpql
— Stanislas Wawrinka (@stanwawrinka) March 13, 2020
• Petra Kvitova
It’s time to leave Indian Wells and head back to Europe. It has been a strange week here with no tournament, but we are tennis players and our job is far less important than those on the frontline. We will play tennis again and in the meantime, let’s look after each other 🤗 pic.twitter.com/ySkNxT2zMF
— Petra Kvitova (@Petra_Kvitova) March 13, 2020
• Garbiñe Muguruza
Toca parar y esperar. Cuidaros y cuidad a los de vuestro alrededor. Manteneros a salvo.
It is time to stop and wait. Take care of yourself and others around you, and be safe.
✈️ #Home #Safe #Geneva 😘 pic.twitter.com/QUR1PZJqsK
— Garbiñe Muguruza (@GarbiMuguruza) March 13, 2020