There is a void currently in tennis, after the BNP Paribas Open was cancelled in Indian Wells on Sunday night due to a coronavirus (COVID-19) case having been detected locally, leaving players and fans in limbo.
First and foremost, there isn’t anything more important than protecting the health of our players, staff, volunteers and fans who attend our events... We are disappointed our fans will not be able to come out and watch the event, and our players are also disappointed to not compete over the next two weeks, along with the sponsors who support the event. Steve Simon, WTA Chairman and CEO
Organisers moved swiftly to accommodate players, many of whom, including Venus Williams, Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem, last year’s men’s singles champion, had already arrived in California.
Players originally in the main draw in singles and doubles and in the qualifying event in singles were guaranteed complimentary hotel rooms, access to practice courts and medical and laundry service through 16 March.
“I think they did everything they could, but all of a sudden the situation changed overnight, which is unfortunate,” said Kristie Ahn, a member of the WTA Player Council.
Ahn, who had received a wild card to play at Indian Wells, added: “We can’t be mad at them for what, I think, is ultimately the right decision.”
The American said she practiced on Monday afternoon with the Taiwanese player Hsieh Su-wei before attending a WTA Council meeting aimed at sorting out the effect of the tournament’s cancellation on matters like players’ ranking points and prize money distribution.
She said she couldn’t help but be struck by such an uncharacteristic vibe at a tournament ‘all the players really look forward to’.
“It’s quiet,” Ahn said. “And the morale was pretty low. A lot of people are shocked. Some were angry.”
Not all are happy with arrangements, though, as Australia’s John Millman, the World No 43, posted on his Twitter account: “Meant to hit with a high seed tmrw. That person cancelled today obviously due to there being no tournament on anymore. Informed practice I’d still use time and court as I’m still here. Practice desk said no I don’t get that time or court because I’m not a top player or past champ.
“Even when there’s no more tournament the bias is strong… classy.”
His tweet elicited some response from WTA players, including Ellen Perez who tweeted: “Cmon Johnny these top seeded players need this court for practice for 2021 @BNPPARIBASOPEN duhhhh” adding: “I love wimbledon when they say ‘are you a player or a qualifier’. Oh I’m sorry I didn’t realize qualifiers aren’t players.”
Vania King wrote: “At US Open 11’, I was told the same, when I said I won the doubles last year, he said, ‘doubles doesn’t count’. ”
That aside, the cancellation of such a big sporting event inevitably has a huge impact on the local economy and this is estimated to be at least $400 million in the case of Indian Wells, according to a recent survey from 2017.
The tournament attracts more than 450,000 people, including 124,000 from outside the region.
Scott White, President and CEO of the Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau, commented to hotsr.com: “It’s one of our biggest events of the year. This is a tough one to get through. I think a lot of people were very surprised by the postponement.
“It almost feels like nothing negative is happening, then you turn on the news. Everybody I talked to said they’re going to wash their hands more, be more preventive in wiping things down.
“Everybody I spoke to said this is not going to curtail my lifestyle, I’m still going to travel. People are still shaking hands.”
Tourism is the biggest industry in the Coachella Valley, with over 60,000 workers, and White says cancellations like that of the Indian Wells event will have a big impact on their earnings as well.
“We’re reminding event groups that the impact on the tourism worker can be devastating. We had a strong January and February. Bookings for March were up going into this week compared to last year at the same time.”
While the Indian Wells tournament has been postponed, the ATP Tour said in a statement that they were monitoring the situation for the coming events.
“We continue to monitor the situation daily, working closely with our player and tournament members with the understanding that direction must be taken from local public health authorities.”
Steve Simon, WTA Chairman and CEO, stated: “First and foremost, there isn’t anything more important than protecting the health of our players, staff, volunteers and fans who attend our events.
“Based on the medical advice received on March 8, it is with regret that the 2020 BNP Paribas Open will not be held as scheduled this March.
“The WTA empathizes with those affected by the coronavirus in this region and around the world.
“We are disappointed our fans will not be able to come out and watch the event, and our players are also disappointed to not compete over the next two weeks, along with the sponsors who support the event.
“However, we understand the decision which has been made in the interest of public health and safety which is the top priority at this time. It is too soon to speculate about what will happen to other tournaments that follow.
“We will continue to closely monitor the situation. Health and safety will always come first.”
The WTA has since said that it hopes to go ahead with the rest of its 2020 calendar, although several tournaments have already been cancelled or postponed around the world due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.
The virus has killed more than 4,000 people across the world and infected over 100,000, most of them in China, while several other countries are now also witnessing the outbreak of the disease.
The WTA has so far cancelled two of its WTA $125K series events in China, scheduled in April, due to the outbreak, and has said it will monitor the situation for other events planned for later in the year.
Speaking to Reuters, the WTA commented: “We are proceeding with the remainder of the 2020 WTA Tour season as planned, but we will be prepared to make any changes, if deemed necessary in due time.
“We are working closely with our tournaments, so they are in the best position to provide for health and safety precautions in their venues”.
The WTA also said that it was regularly communicating with health experts, local governments and travel agencies on the outbreak, and passing the relevant information to the players.
The ITF had also said it is in constant touch with independent medical and travel advisers and would take any action as required based on expert advice.
Among the Davis Cup World Group Qualifiers last weekend, the ties between Italy and Korea, and Japan v Ecuador were played behind closed doors, while the inaugural version of the Fed Cup Finals is scheduled to be held in Budapest, Hungary from14-19 April.
The ATP Tour told Reuters: “We are in regular contact with our player and tournament members regarding the latest precautionary health measures and guidelines, as well as any travel advisories, and we continue to closely monitor the situation as it evolves.”
The men’s tour has also seen some Challenger events cancelled in China in March and April, while the final of a Challenger event in Bergamo, Italy was also cancelled due to the outbreak of the same virus there.
The Miami Open, the next big tennis tournament, is scheduled to begin at the end of March.
After that, the spring schedule reads like a tour of some of the European hot spots for the coronavirus: clay court tournaments in Madrid and Rome, then the French Open at Roland Garros in Paris.
In a statement, a spokesman for the Miami Open said on Monday the tournament was moving forward as scheduled.
The ATP also recommended that its players remain in the United States if they intended to play in the Miami Open in order to avoid any quarantines brought about by leaving and then re-entering the country.
If the Miami Open is played, it is expected to enact restrictions similar to those Indian Wells initially had announced, such as barring ball kids from touching player towels and limiting contact between players and fans.
It might be possible to stage the event without spectators: an option Indian Wells and Ellison rejected but one that IMG, the owners of the Miami Open, could accept.
“Safety remains a top priority,” the Miami Open spokesman said. “We are working with the ATP and WTA tours on recommended best practices and following C.D.C. guidelines closely to provide a safe environment for fans, players and staff.”