During the week that The Championships should have been building to its climax at Wimbledon this coming weekend, thoughts turn again to the next Grand Slam, the US Open, due to be played from 31 August in New York.
We cancelled because we had to cancel. There was absolutely no ‘ifs’ nor ‘buts’. The fact we had insurance was incidental in the sense it's then triggered once you make the decision to cancel. I think there will be a lot learnt between now and next year from a scientific point of view, behavioural point of view, organisational point of view, that will be very different from this year. Richard Lewis, Chief Executive AELTC
The 134th edition of the Championships, was supposed to run from 29 June 29 until 12 July, but was cancelled in April due to the coronavirus pandemic, meaning that Wimbledon is not happening for the first time since the Second World War.
The financial impact of cancellation is not expected to be too harsh on the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, though, as it has secured a large insurance payout after having paid a £1.5 million per year premium for the past 17 years.
Reports have suggested the AELTC could receive £114 million from its policy, which will lessen the blow for organisers, but Richard Lewis, The Club’s outgoing Chief Executive says there is no set figure for the payout as yet.
A significant part of the sum is expected to be given to the LTA in support of British tennis.
“We cancelled because we had to cancel,” Lewis said. “There was absolutely no ‘ifs’ nor ‘buts’.
“The fact we had insurance was incidental in the sense it’s then triggered once you make the decision to cancel.
“I think there will be a lot learnt between now and next year from a scientific point of view, behavioural point of view, organisational point of view, that will be very different from this year.”
Lewis added that The Club will not be able to insure Wimbledon against the possibility of a pandemic cancelling the event again next year.
“No that’s impossible in the current climate,” Lewis said. “What I would say about the future, though, is that when I first started in 2012, there were some signs that things were not insurable, because of communicable diseases that had taken place like SARS and swine flu.
“In the immediate aftermath you can’t get insurance but fairly soon after that, you can start to get insurance again, the market returns.
“So there won’t be insurance next year, but I think in the medium term, just because we’ve made one claim it won’t affect us in the long term.”
Lewis is to be replaced by Sally Bolton as AELTC Chief Executive in August.
Both the French and US Open tournaments are also impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, with the two Grand Slam events planned to take place under restrictions.
While the US Open is scheduled to take place on its original dates, the hard court Grand Slam will have no fans on the grounds and players are reportedly limited to one or two members of support staff on site and will have to live in a ‘bubble’ in designated hotels in Queens or rented properties in the immediate vicinity.
The French Open was postponed until 20 September, but the FFT has announced that a reduced number of fans will be able to attend with restrictions in place.
No more than 4 people can be seated in a group, with one chair left empty between each group in the same row.
Face masks are recommended, but not mandatory, when seated, although they must be worn when moving around the Roland Garros grounds.
Holding both events is seen as key to the finances of the organisers.
The USTA has laid off 130 staff members and taken on more debt to support American tennis so needs the US Open to take place this year to help refresh its coffers.
FFT President Bernard Giudicelli admitted in May that holding the French Open without fans had been considered, but staging the event will enable television contracts to be fulfilled, allowing the organisation to secure crucial funds to help pay off the debts of building a retractable roof on the Philippe Chatrier Stadium Court.
Players, however, remain uncertain about participating, particularly with the current travel restrictions and quarantine requirements in place.
Former British No 1 Annabel Croft, however, who hosted Amazon’s coverage for the recent Battle of Brits event at the LTA’s National Tennis Centre, told Tennis365 that she would have no hesitation heading to America to play the US Open, despite the ongoing threat of the Covid-19 virus, although playing without fans will be strange..
“If I was still playing now, I would be ready to get back on court at the US Open next month,” Croft said.
“From what I hear, the way they are planning to put the US Open on is a safety-first approach on every level, with precautions to protect the players to ensure they play in a safe environment a priority for everyone.
“Empty stands at the US Open will be strange, but we saw Andy Murray walk on court at the Battle of the Brits event last week and there was no-one clapping, no cheers and everyone watching at home on TV enjoyed it.
“All the top players will have been playing tennis all their lives and they would have played most of their junior matches in front of no crowds, with just their parents watching.
“They also practice a lot without anyone watching and when you are a ruthless competitor, they won’t care if a crowd is present when they get out on court and start playing.”
Of course, in this uncertain world, much can happen over the coming weeks and circumstances may well change.