Professional sport is making tentative steps towards a comeback, but we’re yet to know what will happen with tennis. One person who is unsure about the return is current world number two Rafael Nadal. As we wait for 15 June, and a decision by the ATP and WTA about whether the hard-court season will go ahead, Nadal has made his feelings clear – until players can travel safely around the world, tennis should not resume.
In an interview, Nadal said: “We need to be responsible, we need to be sending strong messages and we need to be a positive example for society. We need to understand we are suffering an unprecedented situation and my feeling is that we need to come back when all the players from all the countries of the world are able to travel under safe circumstances. If you asked me today if I want to travel to New York to play, I will say: ‘No, I will not.’ In a couple of months, I don’t know how the situation will improve.” There is some optimism that the US Open will take place behind closed doors, and that a rescheduled French Open could happen as well.
Many hopes were centred around the idea that the US Open will still go ahead
Tennis’ response to Covid-19 has been somewhat mixed. Many of the major tournaments have been suspended, with Wimbledon being cancelled for the first time since the Second World War. With the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics, another opportunity for professional tennis in 2020 has vanished. With the grass-court season abandoned, many hopes were centred around the idea that the US Open will still go ahead. But Nadal is unsure about the idea, and Novak Djokovic has termed the tournament impossible – he’s the president of the ATP Player’s council, so his word carries a lot of weight.
He said: “Maybe I shouldn’t be talking about it, but… We would have to sleep in hotels near the airport and should be tested two to three times a week. We would only have the right to be accompanied by one person. It is simply impossible. You have to take into account coaches, physical trainers, physiotherapists. It all seems very complicated to me. I understand these measures, yes, because there are huge financial issues around the organisation of the US Open. We will see what will happen.” Obviously, the US Open could go ahead but, if it lacks both Nadal and the current world number one, there is little legitimacy to the result.
It is incumbent on tennis’ governing bodies to figure out how the sport could go ahead
As the 2006 Wimbledon champion Amelie Mauresmo said in March: “I think we are going to have to draw a line under the 2020 tennis season.” That is not to say that we have been bereft of tennis for the time being, however. In May, Djokovic announced that he was organising an event across the Balkans, which is scheduled to start next week – he will be joined in Serbia by Dominic Thiem, Grigor Dimitrov and Alexander Zverev. The LTA also announced plans to hold a domestic tennis tournament in July, behind closed doors and open to the 16-highest ranked men and women. Should the suspension of international tours extend into the autumn, it is also working on plans for more domestic events.
Nadal’s concern is entirely understandable, and it is incumbent on tennis’ governing bodies to figure out how the sport could go ahead if guidelines remain in place. If mitigation can take place in every other major sport, it seems highly unlikely that tennis should remain in hiatus. Players may feel uneasy, much as Nadal has described, and they shouldn’t be forced to play. But with proper measures in place, there will likely be some professional tennis in the latter half of 2020 yet.