Can Playing In Empty Stadiums Be Conducive To Quality Tennis?

WASHINGTON, April 20, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

With professional tennis at a virtual standstill for more than a month from the novel coronavirus pandemic – there will be no tournaments before July 13 at the earliest – one possible solution being discussed when play resumes is the staging of tournaments without fans for health and safety concerns.

However, don’t expect all players to buy into this idea. While some players would welcome any opportunity to play again, many thrive on the passionate support and impact that fans bring to a centre court stadium or indoor arena. Imagine, last year’s Wimbledon exciting five-set men’s final between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer being played in front of an empty Centre Court, which seats 14,820. For that matter, think back to the 2019 US Open women’s final won by Bianca Andreescu against Serena Williams in front of 23,771 fans inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. Now, think of a championship match inside an empty, cavernous Arthur Ashe Stadium. Suddenly, these stadiums transform into large TV studios devoid of much of their character and charm when their seats are filled with enthusiastic fans from around the world cheering on their favorite players.

“Tennis minus fans doesn’t work … we enjoy the big stages so much because of the incredible passion the fans bring,” Simona Halep, last years Wimbledon women’s singles champion, recently told German website DPA International. “Otherwise tennis would be a different sport.” 

Petra Kvitova, who has won Wimbledon twice, agreed with Halep’s assessment. “I think the fans are too important. It’s an individual sport, that’s why the fans have such an impact for us,” she said.

Rafael Nadal, who has won 19 career Grand Slams and knows what it’s like to play on the biggest stadiums in tennis, said during a recent radio interview with El Partidazo and El Transistor in Spanish that holding tennis tournaments – with or without fans – would be difficult.

“That is not the issue,” said Nadal, who beat Daniil Medvedev in a five-set thriller to win the 2019 US Open before a sold-out crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium. “The issue is what is required for organization of any event in tennis.

“The (soccer) league is a country or a continent. But tennis is such a global sport, week by week … it seems difficult there could be an official tournament. In this sense, in tennis we have to have responsibility.”

Tennis United: At home with Fabio and Flavia

The second episode of Tennis United, a joint production of the ATP and WTA Tours, dropped last Friday. Among the guests were current World No. 11 Fabio Fognini and his wife, retired Italian Grand Slam champion Flavia Pennetta, who won the 2015 US Open in singles and the 2011 Australian Open (with Gisela Dulko) in doubles. They spoke with co-hosts Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Vasek Pospisil about how they’ve been sheltering in place at home in Italy.

Art imitating tennis

Serena Williams / Created by San Francisco artist Andres Bella, who recycles tennis materials to make art

What they’re photographing

Czech-born photographer Radka Leitmeritz / Mercurial Nick Kyrgios during the 2020 Australian Open

What they’re tweeting

Noah Rubin / Creator, Behind the Racquet website and Instagram series

Petra Kvitova/ Czech Republic, ranked No. 12

Quentin Moynet / L’Equipe tennis writer on Hubert Hurkacz