A global threat to a global game: coronavirus' potential tennis impact

A global threat to a global game: coronavirus' potential tennis impact

We started the year wondering who might win the Grand Slams; now we’re wondering if they’ll even be played.

Editor's Note: See below for updates on tennis' response to the coronavirus.


In January, when tennis fans began speculating about the 2020 season, we wondered how successful the sport’s Big Four—Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer—would be at the Grand Slams. How innocent we all were. Now, a mere two months later, many of us are wondering if those tournaments will be held at all. Recreational players, if they’re like me, may be wondering how much they’ll be able to play the game they love in the near future.

“You never know what’s going to happen next” in tennis and life, of course, but the coronavirus has the potential to be the medical and psychological equivalent of a meteor slamming into the planet and sending us all of us running for cover. In a matter of 10 weeks, it has put all other stories, issues, problems and trends, no matter how seemingly serious at the time, firmly in the rearview mirror. Oh, for the days when we were worried about…virtually anything else. Even climate change feels more abstract than it did a fortnight ago.

As far as tennis is concerned, a global threat will almost surely have a major effect on a global game. So far not much has changed. Outside of China, tournaments are still being played, and a few hundred thousand people are still scheduled to descend on Indian Wells over the next two weeks. There’s even been a positive development: In Fed Cup and Davis Cup ties, ball kids aren’t being forced to handle the players’ towels. Hopefully this is a permanent change, and one that will be instituted everywhere.


The Davis Cup qualifying match between Japan and Ecuador, in Miki, Japan, is being played without fans due to the coronavirus outbreak. (Getty Images)

Unfortunately, other, more drastic changes are likely coming. Like the Olympics, which may be postponed, tennis tournaments are international events where thousands of people gather in close proximity to one another for a week or two, and then re-disperse to their own countries. Italy, which currently has 3,800 coronavirus cases, has banned spectators from its sporting events through at least April 3. It’s easy to imagine the same thing happening at the Foro Italico in May; it’s also easy to imagine players from other countries not wanting to make the trip to Italy at all.

In France, where cases have now passed the 500 mark, the Paris marathon has been postponed. Will Roland Garros follow suit? In New York, there are currently 2,700 people self-quarantined; what are the numbers in this city of 8.6 million going to look like by the time the US Open rolls around in August? It should go without saying that, despite the financial hit they’ll take, tournament officials shouldn’t hesitate to cancel all of these events if they’re deemed a public-health risk.


A security officer wearing a face mask stands guard during the singles match between Go Soeda of Japan and Emilio Gomez of Ecuador. (Getty Images)

You might say that tennis is a luxury item in a time like this, and you’d be right; the world can live without Wimbledon for a year or two or more. But for those of us who play the game, it’s also a way to de-stress, stay healthy and sane, and join a social group with none of the pressures of work and home. Will we be able to continue doing that? A sport where you run and sweat in the close company of others, and potentially spend hours together, may not seem like the refuge it did just a short time ago. The tennis and squash facilities where I play have each sent out somber emails over the past week, urging members who feel ill to stay home and reminding people to “overuse” the hand sanitizer stations that have been hastily installed.

For now, all we can do is hope the spread of the virus slows in the summer months, or doesn’t spread as widely as feared. In the meantime, hopefully, all of this will make us appreciate how lucky we’ve always been to be able to do something as simple as watch and play tennis together.


UPDATE—On Friday, the BNP Paribas Open, the ATP Masters 1000 and WTA Premier Mandatory tournament which begins next week in Indian Wells, Calif., released the following statement regarding coronavirus (COVID-19):

Following the direction and guidance of Dr. David Agus, Professor of Medicine and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California, and Martin Massiello, Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer, Eisenhower Health, the BNP Paribas Open is taking action to continue prioritizing the health and safety of the fans, athletes, and everyone involved with the tournament.

First and foremost, any patron who has purchased tickets directly from the tournament may request a refund for the 2020 tournament, or a credit for the 2021 tournament. Patrons can visit www.bnpparibasopen.com/coronavirus to request a refund or credit.

Additional actions include:

—More than 250 hand sanitizing stations have been placed throughout the facility
—Players will be required to manage their own towel on court and ball kids will not touch or move player towels. A chair will be placed at the back of the court for them to place their towel on for usage during the match.
—Ball kids will wear gloves
—Restaurant and food supply workers will wear gloves
—Volunteers taking tickets at entrances will wear gloves
—N95 masks are being secured for first aid and health personnel to be prepared for any circumstances that would necessitate the use thereof
—Organized player and fan interaction will be limited at the tournament
—All common areas throughout the facility will be cleaned daily with an antiviral application
—Coordinating with local hospital and CDC approved testing for all individuals with symptoms

Further actions are being considered and evaluated on a daily basis in order to continue to ensure the safety of everyone associated with the event.

The ATP and WTA also released this joint statement:

Following medical advice by health experts, the precautionary measures, which are taken in the interest of the health and safety of players, staff, fans and the wider tennis community, are as follows:

·     Players and mascots will not hold hands when walking out on court

·     Ball kids will be provided with gloves to wear on court

·     Ball kids will not handle player towels during matches

·     Ball kids will not handle player drinks during matches

·     Players will be instructed to not distribute used towels, headbands, shirts, sweatbands, etc. to fans following matches or practice

·     Players will not accept pens, tennis balls or other items to hold for autograph signing  

“The health and safety of our players, fans, staff and tournament personnel is paramount and, as the outbreak of COVID-19 continues, these are common sense precautions for us to take,” said the ATP and WTA in a joint statement. “We continue to monitor this closely on a daily basis, working with our players and tournaments, as well as public health authorities as the situation evolves globally.”

The precautionary health measures will be implemented across all WTA events and ATP Tour and ATP Challenger Tour events through the 2020 spring season, with a further review to follow.

Please visit www.bnpparibasopen.com/coronavirus for updates.


UPDATE—On Saturday, the ATP and WTA announced they will implement combined precautionary health measures at the Indian Wells and Miami tournaments:

As the outbreak of COVID-19 continues to cause concern on a global scale, the ATP and WTA have jointly announced a series of precautionary health measures that will be implemented on-site at upcoming events including the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, the Miami Open presented by Itaú and WTA’s Volvo Car Open in Charleston.   

Following medical advice by health experts, the precautionary measures, which are taken in the interest of the health and safety of players, staff, fans and the wider tennis community, are as follows:

Players and mascots will not hold hands when walking out on court
Ball kids will be provided with gloves to wear on court
Ball kids will not handle player towels during matches
Ball kids will not handle player drinks during matches
Players will be instructed to not distribute used towels, headbands, shirts, sweatbands, etc. to fans following matches or practice
Players will not accept pens, tennis balls or other items to hold for autograph signing  
“The health and safety of our players, fans, staff and tournament personnel is paramount and, as the outbreak of COVID-19 continues, these are common sense precautions for us to take,” said the ATP and WTA in a joint statement. “We continue to monitor this closely on a daily basis, working with our players and tournaments, as well as public health authorities as the situation evolves globally.”
 
The precautionary health measures will be implemented across all WTA events and ATP Tour and ATP Challenger Tour events through the 2020 spring season, with a further review to follow.


UPDATE—On Sunday night, the BNP Paribas Open was cancelled due to a confirmed local case of the coronavirus in the Indian Wells, Calif. area. Please click here for our detailed, running story.