Exhibition Tournaments … They’re Everywhere!

WASHINGTON, June 11, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Exhibition events in tennis are nothing new. Think of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi each December and the Laver Cup, which has become part of the ATP Tour calendar in late September. With the coronavirus pandemic having shut down tennis since early March and no definitive restart date confirmed, the current wave of pop-up events, which began in Germany in May, spread to Florida in the U.S. and back to Europe and beyond, have become the landscape of tennis until the ATP, WTA and ITF tours return to normal. Some are getting TV coverage, others are only streamed online. And, for a few exhibitions without deep pockets, it takes knowing where to search on the internet to get lucky and find scores.

“Exhibitions are nothing new in tennis,” Reem Abulleil wrote this week in The National (thenational.ae). “They’ve been a very lucrative business for players for many decades and are mostly successful when they introduce the sport to a community that wouldn’t get live professional tennis otherwise.”

For now, largely due to travel restrictions, most of the current or recent exhibitions – the NZ Premier League in New Zealand, The UTR Pro Match Series in Florida, Region of Valencia Tennis Challenge in Spain – have been regional affairs. Some have been individual competitions while others are team formats. It has been a time of innovation – electronic line calling, Fast-Four formats, players shagging their own marked balls – as well as one where the health and safety of the players are paramount. Forget the post-match hand shake, racquet tapping has quickly become the new normal.

Coming up, Novak Djokovic’s Adria Tour of the Balkans starting this weekend will garner a lot of interest and attention. Also, this weekend, there is the Tipsport Charity Cup, a Czech team competition featuring Team Karolina Pliskova versus Team Petra Kvitova in Prague. Next week, Andy Murray is scheduled to appear in his brother Jamie’s Schroder’s Battle of the Brits, while in Charleston, S.C., Tennis Channel will broadcast the Credit One Bank Invitational beginning June 23. It’s a 16-player, team competition on green clay courts that includes: Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens, Victoria Azarenka and up-and-coming Leylah Fernandez.

Next Monday, an announcement likely will be made on the status of the remainder of the North American hard court US Open Series (Washington, D.C.; San Jose; Toronto, Cincinnati) and the US Open. That covers about a month and one-half of the tennis calendar – from the beginning of August through the middle of September. What happens beyond is anyone’s guess. For now, get used to seeing more exhibitions. Embrace them. They could be with us for a while.