STARNBERG, June 3, 2020
The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) have extended the suspension of play through to 31 July 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This means that events in Hamburg, Bastad, Newport, Los Cabos, Gstaad, Umag, Atlanta and Kitzbühel will not take place as scheduled. The suspensions also apply to the ATP Challenger Tour and the ITF World Tennis Tour. The paradox is, that whilst tennis is straightforward to play while respecting social distancing, it is also complex to restart at tour level because of the need for players and officials to frequently cross global borders.
Meanwhile, exhibition games, including prize money, are already taking place with players calling their own lines, with the chair umpire having the right to overrule. This has shown that with some adjustments players and spectators can enjoy a competitive game.
With just a single camera on court, cash prizes, ranking points and a Grand Slam title on the line, fans and players alike have much to look forward to. Some of the best betting sites are offering the chance to pick winners from the exhibition games. Players have to abide by the world governing bodies anti-corruption rules to ensure fairness for both players and punters.
UTR Pro Match Series, USA
Universal Tennis backed the UTR Pro Match Series in Florida in May, broadcast by Tennis Channel. This was the first top-tier tennis exhibition since the shutdown of tennis. The men’s singles tournament ran from 8-10 May. The women’s tournament took place on 22-24 May.
International Tennis Series, USA
At another private court in Florida, the International Tennis Series, involving players ranked well outside the top 100, has been streaming on ESPN3 since mid-April. Most of these matches have been streamed with a single fixed camera and no commentary.
The idea has been copied in Germany, with the Tennis Point Exhibition Series. The event will be an eight-man field, all outside the top 100, contesting a total of 32 matches over four days on an indoor clay court at the Base Tennis Academy near Hoehr-Grenzhausen and in France, the Ultimate Tennis Showdown is scheduled to start 13 June offering the live-stream of 10 matches per weekend for five weekends.
International tennis tournaments
The ATP and WTA have said they will continue to assess all options to resume the Tour. Tournaments taking place from 1 August 2020 will be reassessed around mid-June. Doubts remain about the US Open, scheduled for 31 August to 13 September. However, the growing exhibition circuit presents an opportunity for everyone in the game to see how tournaments could work.
The French Open, which has already been postponed until Sept 20, is now inching back another week. But most professional players are coming round to the idea of a complete wipeout of the season. Currently, the best-case scenario would see some local fans admitted to January’s Australian Open. There is a review of options for the positioning of fans, how you enable households to sit together but at a safe distance to others, and even watching tennis virtually while still remaining close to the action.
The three professional tour bodies, the ATP, the WTA, the ITF, and four grand slams make seven stakeholders that traditionally worked in their own interests. However, since 17 March, when the French Tennis Federation infuriated the rest of the game by unilaterally announcing the postponement of the French Open, there has been more collaboration and a suggestion that the men’s and women’s tours be merged.