To Its Credit, Tennis Is Becoming A Canary In Novel Coronavirus Coal Mine

WASHINGTON, May 3, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

There is much uncertainty regarding the July 13 return date for professional tennis. While tennis players and fans share an eagerness to see the tours resume play sooner than later, let’s be realistic.

The truth is, there are a lot of hurdles to clear and obstacles to navigate before there can be a US Open or even a twice-rescheduled Roland Garros let alone a routine ATP 250 or WTA International event. One need only think about the challenges facing international travel required to shuttle players to tournament destinations let alone the fact that New York City, home of the US Open, has been the American epicenter for the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States. While the U.S. Tennis Association, which governs the US Open, may be eager to see the tournament go off as scheduled at the end of summer – August 31 to September 13 – the final decision may rest with New York governor Andrew Cuomo. Regardless, it would be a pragmatic one and take into consideration both the health and safety of players, fans and the organizational infrastructure required to stage a two-week Grand Slam.

“It seems increasingly likely that the scheduled resumption on July 13 will be put back by at least a month or two,” Stuart Fraser, the Times of London’s tennis correspondent, wrote on Friday. Any further delays initiated by the ATP and WTA Tours in resuming the 2020 tennis season could jeopardize the US Open.

However, to tennis’s credit, the sport has managed to get ahead of the curve as far testing the waters – being a canary in a novel coronavirus coal mine, if you will. It is a positive start. The Tennis Point Exhibition Series on indoor clay at the BASE Tennis Academy in Höhr-Grenzhausen began on Friday and continues through Monday. Starting next Friday, there will be a three-day prize-money competition, the UTR Pro Match Series, featuring World No. 8 Matteo Berrettini and No. 39 Reilly Opelka as well as Tennys Sandgren and Tommy Paul, both ranked in the Top 100. It will be held in a private location in West Palm Beach, Fla., with no public access allowed. Later in May, there will be a UTR women’s tournament that includes World No. 19 Alison Riske, No. 28 Amanda Anisimova,  No. 51 Danielle Collins and No. 56 Ajla Tomljanovic at the same locale. Both Florida weekend events will be broadcast on Tennis Channel.

The Tennis Point Exhibition Series, the first live major sporting event to take place in a Western European country, is slated as a 12-day event divided into three four-day sessions. It resumes May 7-10 and concludes May 14-17. (All matches are being streamed online by Tennis Channel International and broadcast in the U.S. by Tennis Channel and available for demand on the Tennis Channel app.)

“Local, individual and small group play will be the new normal for the foreseeable future,” Universal Tennis Chairman and CEO Mark Leschly told Tennis.com. “The world has changed and we must adapt and innovate. The UTR Pro Match Series showcases how tennis can be played locally, safely and have results count toward the UTR global rating.”

These smaller tournaments will proceed with caution, thanks to the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. With social distancing being the new normal, in each of these events there will be no spectators, player benches will be noticeably spread further apart on either side of the chair umpire and players will have to get used to retrieving their balls and grabbing their own towels and drinks. While it’s a positive start, how long can we reasonably expect it to last? How long will sponsor and fan interest remain? So many questions remain in search of answers.

Little appetite for shifting US Open dates or locations, but …

According to a tweet from The New York Times tennis correspondent Christopher Clarey in response to Friday’s latest USTA statement on the status of the 2020 US Open, there was “nothing truly new but very little appetite for shifting dates or moving locations to Indian Wells or anywhere else. But still not ruled out entirely.”

Here’s the full USTA statement:

“The USTA’s goal is to hold the 2020 US Open in New York on its currently scheduled dates. In fact, our plans to stage the US Open our scheduled dates at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York with fans, remain on-going. However, we recognize that we are all facing an uncertain and rapidly-changing environment regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, and therefore have been aggressively modeling many other contingencies, including scenarios with no fans. 

“We understand that there is a great deal of speculation regarding the USTA’s planning for the 2020 US Open. We would like to clarify that while we are exploring every possibility around the US Open, the potential to shift the event location or date is not at the forefront at this point of time. 

“Paramount with all our decisions regarding the US Open will be the health and safety of all those involved, in any capacity, with the tournament. We are in continual contact with New York State and New York City officials and agencies, and are meeting weekly with our Medical Advisory Group to learn as much as we can and to properly assess this shifting situation. 

“At this moment, our target date for a decision regarding the status of the US Open is six to eight weeks away (mid-June). We will continue to provide updates as appropriate.”

Behind The Racquet – Danielle Collins

In her recently-published first-person essay for the Instagram series Behind The Racquet, American Danielle Collins described her feelings about being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and how she has coped both physically and mentally. “I didn’t want to be viewed that I was weaker than others just because of it. I didn’t want people calling me sick or let this disease define me. I had to take my situation and find the positives. I have moved forward in many areas the last few months but it still makes me nervous to think I may be a role model for others. I’m not the most outspoken person but I am working on being more comfortable with trying to help others through my experiences.”

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“I was playing in August in San Jose and it all became unbearable. Each part of my body was cracking and popping. This was the last straw and I decided to see the rheumatologist. My appointment was in a few weeks, so I decided to play Toronto in the mean time, which didn’t help. I knew I needed to take care of this before the US Open. After seeing the rheumatologist they found erosion in my neck, hands and feet, which was consistent with RA. It took a lot of bloodwork to rule out other diseases, such as lupus, but they finally diagnosed me with RA after the US Open. That is when I started on medication. The medication only worked to a certain point. I didn’t want to try all these new ones, especially since my quality of life was not improving. I have been on two different medications since then that have worked very well. I have mixed that with a pretty strict diet. Through all of this I have learned what I need to do for myself and what prevents a flare up. I monitor my training and write everything down. I am far more methodical and understand my needs when I am not feeling well. As tennis players we all get caught up in what everyone else is doing and now I am finding what works for me. I have found peace of mind knowing that everyone is dealing with something in one way or another. I am putting myself in the best situation to be a healthy adult. ⁣ ⁣ There was no question if I was going to continue playing tennis or not. I always answer, ‘F**k yes, I am still playing’. This is what I love to do. Going through this has given me the mental strength to fight through even my worst days on court. Still having all these goals in mind for me as an athlete helped me deal with all I did. I work diligently a few times a week with a psychologist through it all. I’ve had many people say RA isn’t a real thing and all I need is herbal remedies to help me relax. It was challenging because I felt extremely isolated after my diagnosis. I don’t know any people my age that have it. When I talk to someone they say, ‘I understand, sometimes I get joint pain when I run’. It isn’t the same.” @danimalcollins ⁣ ⁣ Go to behindtheracquet.com for extended stories, podcast and merch.

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What they’re saying

Hall of Fame great Billie Jean King, appearing on CNN International’s Amanpour Friday evening, was asked what tennis players should do during the Covid-19 lockdown: “To think about being the best player you can be, I’m really big about mental, emotional, and physical (together). I think the greatest players in the world – it doesn’t matter what generation – have always been the strongest emotionally.

“I think it’s really, really import to have reflection time. And, also, what are your new goals? You’ve got to come out of this, it’s going to be different, and you’ve got to adapt.”

• British No. 9 Jan Choinski on playing in the Tennis-Point exhibition in Höhr-Grenzhausen, Germany, as quoted by the BBC: “Tennis is not a contact sport like soccer. The strangest thing is maybe that we have so many cameras around, and not many people watching actually live on site.”

• Saying he’s had enough of video games and self-isolation at home near Nashville, Tenn., Tennys Sandgren, as quoted by The New York Times“I’d play tennis in a hazmat suit, just to go compete. I’m itching.”

What they’re podcasting

This week’s Match Point Canada podcast (@MatchPointCAN) features interviews with Canadian pro Peter Polansky, who talks about revenue sharing proposals for lower-ranked players, and Rogers Cup tournament director Karl Hale, updates on “the dire situation” in Toronto with the Rogers Cup.

What they’re sharing on social media

Belinda Bencic, Switzerland, currently ranked No. 8 / Thoughts about playing on clay

King of Clay versus King of Grass / Who remembers this encounter?

Mansour Bahrami / Always a court jester