As ‘known unknowns’ go, Covid has set the standard. Predicting what will happen in a month’s time, let alone a year’s time, is a mug’s game.
For a player, for sure it is not the same playing without fans, but I’d still way rather be playing the event than not. That’s for sure. I would like to see Wimbledon go ahead regardless of whether there are fans or not. Andy Murray
Particularly in doubt is the Australian Open, due to take place (as it has done every year since 1972), in January. Recent pandemic developments have thrown into doubt whether the tournament can be staged at all, though many of the top players including Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Nick Kyrgios, Ashleigh Barty, Bianca Andreescu and Serena Williams, have, after a frustrating lockdown year for some, expressed their willingness and desire to play.
If the Open was due to take place tomorrow, it wouldn’t be happening as the State of Victoria is – at time of writing – in lockdown, such is the tightrope on which tennis’ foothold is precariously balanced.
Craig Tiley, the Open’s tournament director, acknowledged the challenge when, earlier this week, he told the Australian national, The Age, “The point is that everything can change depending on the rules that impose quarantine on those who enter our country and come from abroad. Everyone has demonstrated their commitment to come to the tournament and that signed document is already been sent to the Immigration Department so that it can process the necessary visas.”
And then there are the warm-up events, including the ATP Cup. Players can’t be expected to just roll up without acclimatisation and practice, something that Tiley is keenly aware of.
“To run the (Australian leg) tour as we would like, with different tournaments in different cities, we need our quarantine plans approved,” continued Tiley. “Also, we need the government to provide us with some kind of exemption that allows for mobility from one state to another, as the borders are still closed at the moment. We need to resolve it within a maximum period of 10-15 days. If not, we will have to concentrate all activity in Melbourne and create a health bubble that will remain in place for a long time.”
Tickets for the event are due to go on sale from November 26th, so a decision is imminent.
In any event, if the tournament does go ahead, it is likely to proceed with a limited number of fans although Tiley has confirmed that from a players’ perspective, the Aus$71 (£54.4m) prize money purse will not be affected.
For now, it’s a ‘watch this space’ scenario.
No such doubt about Wimbledon, though. The All England Club has already announced that The Championships will take place – in one form or another – over the fortnight, June 29th to July 12th, 2021.
Put it in your diaries!!
As the only Grand Slam tournament that wasn’t played this year, it will be smarting from its enforced absence from the Tour, though its disappointment will have been tempered somewhat by its foresight in being the only Slam – indeed, one of the few major sporting events in the world – to have insured against cancellation due to a health pandemic, resulting this year in a hefty pay out from its insurers.
The outbreak of the SARS virus back in 2003 prompted the then Wimbledon committee to insure against that which we are experiencing right now, and their wisdom has, 17 years on, been rewarded with a pay-out – thought to be in excess of £100 million – handsome reward for the £25 million in insurance premiums it has forked out over the past two decades.
The Lawn Tennis Association, the beneficiary of the annual surplus accrued from Wimbledon receipts, may well be the loser in all of this, but from a player and fan perspective, the news that Wimbledon will definitely take place next year is a boost to the sport and will give fans something positive to look forward to next summer.
Andy Murray, winner of The Championships in 2013 and 2016, is one player who is delighted.
“I think the events that have gone on so far, the ones I’ve been involved in, have been pretty successful. I guess it would be up to – well, for me, the fans. If the fans are enjoying watching it and they are getting good TV ratings and things, then that would suggest people would still like to see tennis and watch a major event. For a player, for sure it is not the same playing without fans, but I’d still way rather be playing the event than not. That’s for sure. I would like to see Wimbledon go ahead regardless of whether there are fans or not.”
Fans who were successful in this year’s public ballot will have the option to purchase tickets for the same day and court for the 2021 Championships and there will be no 2021 public ballot.
The 2021 Championships will be the first to be overseen by the All England Club’s new Chief Executive (and its first woman to hold that position), 46-year-old Sally Bolton who, like her predecessor of 8 years, Richard Lewis, worked with the Rugby League. It will also have a new referee, former Great Britain Davis Cup player Jamie Baker replacing Andy Jarrett, its referee for 14 years.
As things stand, the French and US Opens are expected to return to their Spring and Autumn slots respectively, the French taking place in the two weeks of 23rd May to June 6th, while the US Open is scheduled for the fortnight commencing August 30th 2021.
Guy Forget, the Tournament Director at Roland Garros, has said that should the pandemic continue apace, the FFT would have no hesitation in moving its date (as it did unilaterally this year and to the dismay of the Tour), to later in the year. Forget has, however, suggested that should the pandemic enforce a change in the calendar, French officials will next year work with Tour officials to agree the date.
“If that (the need to change dates) would happen again next year, we will probably at an earlier stage try to move Roland Garros to a bit later in the season,” Forget said recently. “I know we have been criticized when we moved the dates of Roland Garros this year. We did it in a very quick way. We got some people upset. Some players were really surprised. We did it on our own. The positive thing is now those same people, and especially players, told us that it was the right thing to do. So it worked.”
The US Open – under its new female tournament director Stacey Allaster, who made such a success of the 2020 tournament in September – will no doubt be watching proceedings as the year progresses and make its decisions accordingly. As the final Slam of the year, it will – unlike this year when it led the way in staging a major event mid-pandemic – have the luxury of observing how the other three events cope.
As for the rest of the tour, who knows? But where the Grand Slams lead, others will follow, particularly in the countries where they are staged. Every country, every tournament, ever sponsor, every player and every fan will make their own decisions and choices, based on the progress of governments to counter the spread of the virus in their localities. But at least the tennis world is preparing well, and early, for a positive outcome.
Tennis Threads will be tracking it all, every step of the way.