The notion of “fan-less” events in 2020 and beyond has created a very clear divide between the different tiers of athletes— not just in tennis— but throughout the entire sports world.
It seems the superstar athletes, like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic, need fans just as much as the fans need them. These players, who would struggle to spend all their money in this lifetime even if they tried, rely primarily on the spectators energy and admiration for fuel. While the less accomplished athletes, especially in the financially unequal world of professional tennis, simply yearn for competition to return as their sole avenue to pay their bills.
James has since backtracked on his initial statement of “I ain’t playing if I ain’t got the fans in the crowd,” likely because his path to a fourth NBA Championship is now certain to take place in an empty arena, but Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and now Petra Kvitova, have echoed James’ thoughts.
“In my view, I can’t see an empty stadium. I can not. I hope that doesn’t happen, Federer told Globo Esporte. “For us, of course, it is possible to play without any fans. But on the other hand, I really hope that the circuit can return as it normally is. May we wait for the appropriate time to return to normal mode again. At least a third of the stadium or half full. But for me, completely empty when playing in big tournaments is very difficult.”
“Well, I am not OK on playing without fans, I want to play with fans,” Rafael Nadal said. “But if the situation is not allowing to play with fans, as everybody, I will adapt to the situation. But of course I hope the situation will improve and I hope we will be able to play with fans very soon. Tennis and sports without the fans loses almost every single thing.”
In her interview on Monday’s edition of Tennis Channel Live, Kvitova recounted her recent experience playing without fans at the Prague Open.
“I do have experience from the tournament we just had here in the Czech Republic and it’s very sad (without fans),” Kvitova said, while noting that the tournament was a positive experience overall.
“I’m not really sure how it would be if we played without the fans, how we would handle it, how we would fight, how the emotions will be,” Kvitova continued. “That's really one thing I’m gonna miss so much, we are playing for the fans and the fans are there for us. It would be very difficult to say yes or no, I know there’s many reasons to play and many reasons not to play. But it’s a bit extreme right now, it will be a very tough decision.”
At the end of February, Kvitova finished runner-up to Aryna Sabalenka in Doha, her last WTA appearance before the tour shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.