As Australians are hitting the courts in record numbers to enjoy the social, mental and physical benefits of tennis while maintaining strict physical distancing measures, the fields have been set for the UTR Pro Tennis Series being played in Sydney this weekend, the first competition being played across the country, with further action in Melbourne and Brisbane from next Monday.
Our team has put an enormous amount of time and effort into the planning of these events, and have worked closely with the authorities and tennis staff around the country on the ground to ensure they are run according to strict biosecurity protocols. Craig Tiley, CEO Tennis Australia
Players are following strict biosecurity measures, including bring and handling towels, supplying their own food and drink as well as ‘tapping rackets’ instead of shaking hands.
The event will be played without fans and minimal on-site personnel while players will be encouraged to limit their time at the venues and not use showers there.
Leading Australian player John Millman was among those who pushed Tennis Australia to start a domestic competition, advocating for a state-of-origin concept.
“If Australia recovers before ATP tour is ready to kick off again I think we have a unique opportunity in our sport to create domestic interest in tennis again,” Millman tweeted in April.
“Instead of having your run-of-the-mill money tournaments imagine something completely different. How about an interstate teams competition?”
Women’s World No 1 Ashleigh Barty, however, is missing from the program, opting not to take part and focusing instead on practice before the global game resumes..
With the pro tours stopped in their tracks by the outbreak of COVID-19, including the cancellation of Wimbledon next week, Australia’s leading players have been limited to honing their skills on home soil.
“At this stage I won’t be taking part in the UTR Pro Series as my team and I continue to focus on my training,” Barty said in a statement.
“It’s great there is an opportunity for Aussies to get back out there and I wish all the competing players the best for the event.”
The US Open plans to go ahead in its regular time-slot at the end of August but the French Open champion Barty has yet to commit to travelling to the United States.
Meanwhile, in the UTR Pro Tennis Series, Australian players will be vying for $450,000 in prize money.
TA Chief Executive Craig Tiley said the concept was designed to give the country’s professionals a chance to continue competing.
“Our team has put an enormous amount of time and effort into the planning of these events, and have worked closely with the authorities and tennis staff around the country on the ground to ensure they are run according to strict biosecurity protocols,” he said.
26-year-old Christopher O’Connell will aim to revive the form he established in a stunning 14-month period when he returns to competition, having won more professional matches than any other man in 2019 as he claimed 2 ATP Challenger and 3 ITF Futures titles.
O’Connell, who has a Universal Tennis Rating (UTR) of 14.83, is determined to regain that momentum as he leads an 8-man Sydney field that also includes Aleksander Vukic, Max Purcell and Rinky Hijikata.
Abbie Myers and Ellen Perez, with UTRs of 12.05 and 12.04 respectively, lead the women’s field in Sydney, with Alexandra Bozovic, Taylah Lawless, Lisa Mays and Michaela Haet also competing.
The Sydney event marks the first stop in the UTR Pro Tennis Series, which takes place in 5 Australian cities and continues until August.
Further events begin in Melbourne and Brisbane on Monday, with Perth and Adelaide hosting later instalments.
“Our aim through the UTR Pro Tennis Series is to give as many of our athletes the chance to compete and, importantly, also earn prize money, after months of not being able to make their living playing the sport they have devoted their lives to,” added Tiley.
Players enter using their Universal Tennis Rating (UTR), giving them an opportunity to compete locally and have their results count globally via the Universal Tennis Rating (UTR) system.
Marc Polmans, Alex Bolt, Blake Mott, Luke Saville and Harry Bourchier are among the men who will compete as action begins at the National Tennis Centre in Melbourne on Monday.
The women’s field in Melbourne is led by Storm Sanders and Destanee Aiava, with Belinda Woolcock, Ivana Popovic, Gabriella Da Silva-Fick and Talia Gibson also competing.
The 25-year-old Sanders, who has a UTR of 12.48, resumed her singles career last October after a two-year break and will welcome the chance to draw on the work that continued through the tour shutdown.
“I’m trying to make the most of the time by setting little fitness goals, watching some of my recent match footage in both singles and doubles and trying to find ways to improve,” Sanders recently commented.
Jason Kubler is among the men who will return to professional tennis in Brisbane.
With a UTR of 14.84, the Queenslander leads an 8-man field that also includes John-Patrick Smith, Adam Walton and Maverick Banes.
Lizette Cabrera and Maddison Inglis will aim to resume the strong form they demonstrated early in the 2020 season.
Cabrera, who has a UTR of 12.48, was a quarter-finalist at the Hobart International, while Inglis claimed back-to-back Australian Pro Tour titles in Burnie and Perth in February to help achieve a UTR of 12.37.
All matches will be streamed via Tennis Australia’s Youtube channel here: www.youtube.com/TennisAustralia
Data obtained from Tennis Australia’s award winning Book a Court online booking system has shown a sharp increase in the number of people playing tennis during May 2020, compared to the same time last year.
A record 32,234 bookings were made across Australia at 235 tennis venues using the technology last month alone.
Tiley is not surprised by the increase, saying: “We’ve always known that tennis is a unique sport – it can be played by anyone no matter their age or ability – and now, during the pandemic, we are seeing more people enjoying the social, mental and physical benefits of sport while maintaining strict physical distancing measures.
“The increase in bookings we’ve seen across the country is not accidental.
“Safety and trust have been the most important factors as clubs and coaches across the country have prepared for the return to tennis and the team has done a remarkable job to give everyone the information and bio security protocols they need to get players back on court as safely as possible.
“And our clubs and tennis venues are seeing the rewards as a result of their efforts
“As restrictions in most of the country continue to ease over the coming months we hope to build on these results as we approach our summer, and know that as long as we all continue to play our part and practice all the physical distancing and hygiene protocols, tennis at all levels can also play a major role in the recovery from this devastating pandemic.