Coronavirus Outbreak: What does cancellation of Wimbledon mean for tennis in 2020?

Wimbledon became the first Grand Slam tournament to be cancelled in a calendar year since Australian Open moved from December to January in 1986.

Tanuj Lakhina April 02, 2020 17:19:50 IST
Coronavirus Outbreak: What does cancellation of Wimbledon mean for tennis in 2020?

It seemed inevitable and now it is official: Wimbledon has been cancelled. For the first time since 1945, or in 75 years, there will be no All England Championships. The oldest Grand Slam will not be played. The tournament that has survived everything but the two World Wars since 1877, has ceded space to the global pandemic. If the coronavirus pandemic could claim the Tokyo Olympics, forcing a postponement, Wimbledon is a smaller fish to fry. But for the sport itself, nothing is bigger.

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Novak Djokovic celebrated his Wimbledon title last year by eating a handful of grass on Centre Court. AP

So, in 2020, there will be no players walking donning all whites, there will be no filled up royal box with who's who of the world, there will be no picnics at Henman Hill, there will be no traditional strawberries and cream and there will be no tents parked outside SW19 for hours to get inside the gates.

"I'm Shooked," tweeted seven-time Wimbledon champion Serena Williams. "Devastated," wrote eight-time winner Roger Federer. Both 38-years-old and chasing glory of their own will have to wait, if possible. Serena is stuck on 23 Grand Slam titles - one behind all-time record holder Margaret Court.

Federer, on the other hand, has a race for the most Grand Slam titles alongside Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. With 20, Federer is ahead of Nadal (19) and Djokovic (17).

Age, however, is not on either player's side with the calendar getting pushed: Serena's last major win was the 2017 Australian Open and for Federer it was the 2018 Australian Open. Since then, the American has made four finals and come out second best. For the Swiss, there has been just one final appearance - at Wimbledon last year where he came within two championship points before losing to Djokovic.

For long, the complaint has been that the calendar is far too packed and too long. Players would get eight to ten weeks off, at best, in the post-season. On the men's side, Davis Cup Finals, ATP Finals and Laver Cup were brought into the picture at the same time. This cut things short even further. And now, there has been action only for eight weeks (nine if you include Davis Cup qualifiers). Tournaments have been suspended since the second week of March and will remain that way until 13 July at least which means no tennis for a combined 12 weeks. To summarise the situation, even if tennis were to resume on 13 July, the lay off period would be longer than the action on the court.

During this period, the players, especially at the lower level, the coaches, the tournaments and the people associated all have lost income. The pressure would be high on the governing bodies to stage some events, some tournaments as soon as possible. But given the global nature of the sport, hosting events is a significant challenge. There are bans on travel and public gatherings which are unlikely to be lifted at the same time.

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Main public entrance to Wimbledon which was cancelled for 2020 due to public health concerns. AP

Wimbledon has challenges of its own. There were some voices, including former champion Boris Becker, who called for the decision to be put off until later. But Wimbledon has concerns about fading light as the year progresses, the grass becoming damp and the tournament organisers had already decided against staging the Slam without fans.

Those challenges exist for Roland Garros too but not as much. The red clay can hold out in September even if the evening light fades faster. But the odds of Roland Garros going ahead in its rescheduled September timetable look grim too. Least of all is the underhanded strategy of the French Tennis Federation (FFT) to move the tournament without consulting with either tours and players first.

US Open, next major in line, has stated that it is staying on schedule. The hard court event can be held late in the season owing to the surface, the summer season in the US but it could come at the cost of other tournaments or the season being stretched altogether. At the moment, part of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre is being converted into an emergency hospital to deal with the rising cases of the pandemic. To see US Open being postponed until December would be the most probable course of events.

The next tournaments on schedule are in Hamburg, Bastad, Bucharest and Lausanne but no one is holding their breath for resumption. 2006 Wimbledon winner Amelie Mauresmo said on Twitter earlier this week: "I think we are going to have to draw a line under the 2020 tennis season. An international circuit = players of all nationalities, as well as coaches, spectators and those coming from all four corners of the world to bring these events to life."

"No vaccine = no tennis."

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