Wimbledon Decision Will Be No Splendour In The Grass

WASHINGTON, April 1, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

With Great Britain on lockdown due to the novel coronavirus pandemic and pro tennis halted until at least June 8, which coincides with start of the traditional British grass-court season, it should come as no surprise that Wimbledon leaders at the All England Club (AELTC) are set to make an imminent decision by teleconference – perhaps as soon as today – about this year’s fortnight scheduled for June 29 to July 12. If the Wimbledon Championships cancel due to the coronavirus risk, it’s very likely the rest of the grass-court season will be cancelled as well.

Of note, if Wimbledon is scrubbed for this year, it would be a first at SW19 since 1945, during the Second World War, and it would be the first cancellation for reasons other than war in the tournament’s storied history. It would also reduce the number of Grand Slams this year from four to three. The French Tennis Federation already has announced it would postpone the start of Roland Garros from May 24 to September 20, a unilateral decision which was met with wide criticism by the other Grand Slams.

Options facing Wimbledon besides cancellation, including postponement to other dates – especially now that the Olympic tennis tournament has been shelved until next year – have been suggested. However, with a grass-court major, there is cost and labor-intensive issues involved in maintaining the grass courts not to mention daylight issues if the tournament is moved to, say, October. On top of everything else, what if Wimbledon reschedules to later dates and the virus hasn’t diminished by then? Right now, there is not complete confidence that the All England Club could safely honor rescheduled dates. To its credit, the AELTC has pandemic insurance and could withstand a financial hit to its pocketbook.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA), which runs the US Open, is continuing to proceed with plans to hold the summer-ending major in Flushing Meadows, New York, as scheduled from August 24 to September 13. On Monday, it was revealed that portions of the Billie Jean King USTA National Tennis Center – the Indoor Training Center and Louis Armstrong Stadium – would be repurposed into a temporary hospital providing 350 beds and a commissary – to aid New York City, which is the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis in the United States.

“We’re very hopeful, we’re very optimistic, that the 2020 US Open will occur on its scheduled dates,” Chris Widmaier, managing director of corporate communications for the USTA, said in a telephone interview with The Washington Post this week. “Because of that, our plans are ongoing.

“We understand what an unprecedented, rapidly changing scenario we’re facing, and because of that, we are also planning for every potential contingency. Whatever you’re thinking could be a possibility we’re thinking about as a possibility.”

What they’re saying

Judy Murray, mother of famous British players Andy and Jamie Murray, was recently asked “What’s the best tennis advice you’ve ever received?” Her reply: “There’s more space above the net than below it. So hit the ball UP!”

Patrick McEnroe, younger brother of Hall of Famer John McEnroe and now an ESPN tennis broadcaster, who tested positive for the Covid-19 virus:

What they’re writing

• Liz Clarke, Washington Post sports feature writer, on the changing landscape of the 2020 pro tennis season: “The notion of the world’s best having to choose between the U.S Open and French Open is nothing any tennis fan wants to see. But it may come down to a calculated decision about which event gives title contenders the best chance of claiming another major.”

• Christopher Clarey, New York Times tennis correspondent, on how coronavirus is providing an existential threat to some tennis events: “With professional tennis on hold until at least June – and perhaps much longer – the sport’s administrators and players are scrambling to cut their losses as tournaments are postponed or canceled en masse. Looming over those adjustments, there’s a threat – that some events, particularly those on the lower rungs of the men’s and women’s tours, will not survive.”

What they’re tweeting

Carla Suárez Navarro, Spain, currently ranked No. 68

“Many thanks to the healthcare staff for their enormous effort. Today and always. Strong, valued and recognized healthcare is the foundation of any society. They are fundamental. They are admirable. They risk their lives to save ours. Let’s not forget it.”

Martina Hingis, Switzerland, 25-time Grand Slam title winner (5 singles, 13 doubles, 7 mixed doubles)

Amélie Mauresmo, France, two-time Grand Slam singles champion 

“I think we’re going to have to draw a line under the 2020 tennis season. International circuit = players of all nationalities plus the staff, spectators and people from the 4 corners of the world who bring these events to life. No vaccine = no tennis.”