Can Tennis Be Staged Safely In The U.S.?

WASHINGTON, July 8, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

World TeamTennis begins its three-week, one-site season on Sunday at The Greenbrier “America’s Resort” in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. In May, when the WTT revealed its plan of brining all nine of its franchises together and playing an entire season in one location – and even inviting a limited number of fans (500 per day) due to a low COVID rate – it seemed a sensible idea. It meant the WTT, the brainchild of tennis legend and Hall of Famer Billie Jean King – created all the way back in 1974 – would go on as planned.

With fingers crossed, the 2020 World TeamTennis season features a 63-match regular season over 19 consecutive days, from July 12-30, with the WTT Playoffs to follow on Aug. 1 – WTT Semifinals at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. ET – and Aug. 2 – WTT Final at 12 noon ET.

Now, fast forward as other American professional sports leagues are attempting to begin or re-start – Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NHL, Major League Soccer, the WNBA – and one wonders if it’s possible to stage sports in the United States safely. For now, the jury is out on tennis, but the WTT sure hopes to prove its naysayers wrong. Here’s why:

• Two weeks ago, the Credit One Bank Invitational in Charleston, S.C., which featured 16 women’s players, battled through rain delays. But guess what? No fans were allowed, the players maintained social distancing and followed a strict health and safety protocol and, not surprisingly, none of the players tested positive for the coronavirus.

• Last weekend, the DraftKings All-American Team Cup in Peachtree Corners, Ga., near Atlanta, brought together the top eight men’s players from the U.S. Unfortunately, one of them – Frances Tiafoe – tested positive for COVID after the first day and immediately withdrew from the competition. However, the show went on, which drew criticism following the cancellation of the recent Adria Tour in the Balkans after several players – including the tour’s founder Novak Djokovic and Grigor Dimitrov – tested positive for COVID-19. While temperatures were taken daily for both players and spectators at last weekend’s event, face masks were only encouraged but not required. Fan attendance was capped at 30 percent and, at times – based on televised images on Tennis Channel – it seemed as if there were only a few dozen spectators on hand.

On Monday, World TeamTennis CEO Carlos Silva announced that Tiafoe, who was scheduled to play for the Washington Kastles, would be ineligible to compete in the 2020 WTT season, “having tested positive for COVID-19 within the advance travel testing window.”

On Tuesday, World No. 2 Rafael Nadal confirmed his participation in the Mutua Madrid Open, which begins the day after the US Open ends. It should come as little or no surprise that Nadal will almost certainly skip defending his 2019 US Open title in favor of staying in Europe to play on clay. Previously, he expressed his concerns about flying to the U.S. in the midst of a pandemic as well as playing in a Grand Slam with no fans allowed.

Tennis.com writer Steve Tignor, in his essay “Can Sport Return in a Nation with an Ever-rising Tide of Covid Cases?” writes:

The biggest questions for the game – the return of the tours, and viability of the US Open – are still ahead. Unlike team sports in the U.S., tennis brings an international perspective to the pandemic. The Open won’t allow fans, but will players from other nations feel safe coming here? When they return to the tour, should we expect them to take on the risk of testing positive? If so, how many positive tests per tournament will we tolerate for the chance to watch tennis again?

We can’t simply shut down society until a vaccine is developed, because that could take years. But there’s a difference between playing games in a country where COVID is under control, and one where it isn’t.

Indeed, I agree with Tignor. I think many share his point of view. After all, it can be argued that we look to sports – including tennis – as an escape as well as a form of entertainment. Certainly, tennis connects fans from around the world – both in person at tournaments and via social media. And yet, as Tignor points out, sports “shouldn’t be used to help normalize the idea that Americans can live with an ever-rising tide of coronavirus cases.”

Let’s face it, we’re a long way from taming the coronavirus in the United States. Hopefully, the US Open can go on – even without fans this year. Ditto for the ATP opener in mid August, the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., plus the Western & Southern Open that follows it, which has been shifted to Flushing Meadows, N.Y., the week before the US Open. However, even if tennis re-opens for business in the U.S., it shouldn’t be seen as a signal that normalcy has returned.

A lot can change in a short time. All eyes will be focused on the WTT in West Virginia. Stay tuned.

Wimbledon – What we’re missing

Last Sunday, Washington Post national sports writer Chuck Culpepper, who has reported on 10 Wimbledons for five publications across three decades, shared a must-read about The Championships, “Wimbledon is elegant and nutty and lovely and other words belonging to no other event.”

For instance:

I reveled in the lingual possibilities, from how the noun “weather” got paired so often with the adjective “appalling” to what journalist Alix Ramsay said in 2016, amid her respect for Andy Murray’s general candor, for a story about the respectful relationship between British media and British star: “He may have told us a few porky pies over the years, if he doesn’t want to release some news today because it’s coming out next week.”

Our failure to adopt the everyday use of “porky pies” constitutes a glaring national oversight.

Ending a 77 year wait …

On July 7, 2013, Andy Murray broke the British drought. Murray won his first Wimbledon title and became the first British man since Fred Perry in 1936 to win the Wimbledon Championships. Murray defeated Novak Djokovic, 6-4, 7-5, 6-4, in three hours and 10 minutes, winning on his fourth match point.

Top women’s rivalries of the Open Era

Associated Press tennis writer Howard Fendrich writes about some of the great women’s tennis rivalries of the Open Era – think Evert-Navratilova and Venus-Serena.

Chris Evert on her rivalry with Martina Navratilova: “We’re like night and day. She came from a Communist country. I came from the ‘land of freedom.’ She was fearless. I came from this Catholic family, and I was fearful. Everything was different about us. We really brought along the groups of fans for the ride,” Evert said. “People loved me and hated her or they loved her and hated me. People took it personally when we played.”

A golden set isn’t as easy as it might seem

A golden set – winning all 24 points of a set without losing a single point – has only happened in a Grand Slam event once. After all, accomplishing a golden set isn’t as easy as it might seem. However, in 2012, Russian-born Kazakh Yaroslava Shvedova became the only player in the Open Era to win a golden set, when she beat Sara Errani of Italy, 6-0, 6-0, in the third round at Wimbledon. Match time was a crisp 15 minutes.

The most sneakily advanced tennis shoe – ever 

The fashion reviews for Roger Federer’s “THE ROGER,” which was revealed during a splashy online get-together with the Swiss maestro, has been positive. Here’s what GQ wrote:

When Vika met Rennae …

It’s real talk when Victoria Azarenka chats with the Racquet Podcast about motherhood, comebacks, Black Lives Matter, and gives props to little Leo.

What they’re writing

Tumaini Carayol, tennis writer for The Guardian of London, from “The Greatest: Novak Djokovic – speedy superserver who masters mind games”:

In 2007, as Roger Federer wreaked havoc on the world, a young Serb with freakish flexibility and a wicked backhand began to put himself on the map. As he rose up the rankings, Novak Djokovic passed a series of players who lost to the best before they even stepped on to the court. People wondered aloud whether Djokovic was really any different.

“Why should I be frightened?” Djokovic responded. “For me it’s a totally normal thing. If you go out on the court thinking positively and thinking: ‘I can win against anybody,’ I think that’s a right thinking. If you go with the white flag on the court, what are you doing there?”

The story of Djokovic’s breakthrough will always begin with Federer and Rafael Nadal, and how the future seemed clear before his arrival. By the end of 2007, Federer had won eight of the previous 10 slams. Immediately after Djokovic’s first Australian Open in 2008, the Spaniard secured the French Open-Wimbledon double with one of the greatest matches of all time in the final of the latter. Djokovic was always tipped to compete for slam titles but the question was how consistently he could overcome two young legends of the sport.

What they’re sharing on social media

Chanda Rubin / Sharing a conversation with trailblazer Zina Garrison