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With COVID-19, Southern California tennis world shocked and wondering

With COVID-19, Southern California tennis world shocked and wondering

“It’s wild,” says Bob Bryan. “It was unexpected and now it feels really serious. But everyone’s in the same boat. We’re not feeling sorry for ourselves.”

LOS ANGELES—Here in Los Angeles, a two-hour drive west of the recently cancelled BNP Paribas Open, many people actively involved in the tennis world are grappling with an unprecedented and dangerous situation.

The tournament has long been a spring break of sorts for many of this city’s longstanding, well-populated and zealous community of tennis aficionados—a mix of entertainment-loving spectators excited to witness the sport’s biggest names, and ardent players who often construct a troika of recreational play, watching matches and socializing at the Coachella Valley’s range of bars, restaurants, clubs and resorts.

“The team at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden was ahead of the curve,” says Lornie Kuhle, tournament director of the Easter Bowl, a prominent junior event set to take place at the same venue later this month that was also recently cancelled. “I commend them for their judgment and leadership.”   

“I don’t know who to feel worse for—the people who volunteer and work at the tournament, the fans who attend it, or the players,” says Wayne Bryan, a lifelong Southern Californian who for more than 20 years has emceed many events connected with the tournament. He's also the father of the doubles duo of Mike and Bob Bryan. 

The Bryans, who months ago announced that this will be their final year on the tour, arrived in the desert last Sunday morning after taking a red-eye from their Davis Cup match in Hawaii. Joined by a full troupe of coaches and family members, Bob and Mike were looking forward to thanking the many local fans that had long supported them at a tournament they’d attended since childhood. 

Instead, once word hit of the cancellation, Bob headed to the family home in Camarillo, 50 miles west of Los Angeles. 

“It’s wild,” says Bob. “It was unexpected and now it feels really serious. But everyone’s in the same boat. We’re not feeling sorry for ourselves.”

A couple of weeks ago, at the Beverly Hills Tennis Club (BHTC), BNP Paribas Open tournament director Tommy Haas staged a clinic at this cozy, five-court club. More recently, such players as Novak Djokovic, John McEnroe, Stan Wawrinka and Sam Querrey hit balls on the club’s courts—yet another appetite-whetting activity in anticipation of the trip to Indian Wells that many members were planning to make. 

“What’s happening now is surreal,” says BHTC director of tennis, former WTA pro Anne White. “Everybody’s in sort of disbelief about what’s happening. There’s a lot of the unknown out there.”

Bob Kramer, who for more than 25 years was the tournament director of the ATP event that was held at UCLA, had thoughts on the cancellation of both Indian Wells and the next six weeks of pro events. 

“It’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s necessary,” says Kramer, “It shows you how fragile society can be. It’s sad stuff to see the tour put on hold.”

Southern California's Taylor Fritz on the cascade of cancellations:

Former ATP player council president Vijay Amritraj has long been based in Los Angeles, all the while continuing to circle the globe for a variety of projects, including work as a United Nations Messenger of Peace. 

“I’m in touch with people all over the world,” says Amritraj. “First, you think of all these people in places away from home. When you see flights being cancelled, there’s a lot of stress and anxiety. From a perspective of our sport, as global as our sport is, our entire system revolves around travel and interaction. It’s very difficult.” 

Local tennis has also been affected. Yesterday, the USTA Southern California announced the cancellation of the International Open of Southern California, a tournament to be played in the Los Angeles suburb of Carson that was originally scheduled to be played from March 21-29.   

The UCLA campus today was set to host a men’s match between the Bruins and their most notable rivals, the USC Trojans. As of early this morning, the plan was for that match to be played—with no spectators allowed to watch. But shortly after 10:00 a.m., word came from UCLA men’s coach Billy Martin that the match had been cancelled. 

Within an hour, it began to rain. Save for a couple of dry patches this coming Sunday and Monday, the current weather forecast calls for extensive rainfall well into next week.