Dubai: As the world struggles to limp back to a semblance of normalcy from the COVID-19 pandemic, tennis was also attempting the same while announcing protocols at official events starting in Palermo and Washington D.C. on the women’s and men’s Tours, respectively.
And then came a whiplash as Grigor Dimitrov and then Borna Coric announced over the weekend that they had both tested positive for the virus during the course of the Adria Tour event in Zadar, Croatia.
Suddenly, all attention is on Dimitrov and Coric and a lot concerning the future will depend on how they fare in their fight against corona.
No doubt, the ATP has given players a description of the coronavirus protocols including rules around testing and taking of temperatures.
But during last week’s second leg of the Adria Tour, tournament patron Novak Djokovic and Dimitrov – who also played in the Belgrade opener - were involved in a friendly basketball match prior to their appearance in Zadar. Considering how many of their fellow pros they were in close contact with, Dimitrov and Coric may not be the last.
While our prayers and hopes lie with the two players, what exactly could this mean to the men’s and women’s professional tours going forward?
One of the immediate reaction could be that of taking a step back and re-assessing the situation. At least some of the players are bound to do it, and then the ATP and WTA is bound to follow as well.
For a start, on-site numbers at ATP and WTA events will also be significantly reduced with players being allowed just two team members per head, along with only essential tournament personnel, tournament representatives and anti-doping and anti-corruption officials.
Let’s admit it, players now will give it a re-think when it comes to crossing the Atlantic. Which means, professional men’s and women’s tennis will be ‘polarised’ to an extent – most of the Americans staying on their side of the globe while the European line of players indulging on grass and clay to follow
If any tournament can be held safely, though, then I will not be surprised even if several top players are missing.
Given the fact that the current top-12 in men’s professional tennis are all from Europe, with the first one tapping in with an American representation being Diego Schwartzman of Argentina at No.13. Canada has two - Denis Shapovalov (No.16) and Felix Auger-Aliassime (No.20) - and Chilean Cristian Garin (No.18) are among the top-20 from across the pond.
On the WTA Tour, things are a little bit different with 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin of the US at No.4 trailing top three, Ashleigh Barty, Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova. Canada’s Bianca Andreescu and Serena Williams find themselves at No. 6 and 9, respectively, giving the rankings some sort of balance.
Let’s admit it, players now will give it a re-think when it comes to crossing the Atlantic. Which means, professional men’s and women’s tennis will be ‘polarised’ to an extent – most of the Americans staying on their side of the globe while the European line of players indulging on grass and clay to follow.
The WTA is scheduled to return on August 3 at Palermo, but it is yet to be decided whether the event will carry any ranking points. The ATP has not issued any announcement about ranking points at its events either.
At both the opening events - Palermo and Washington D.C. - organisers have indicated they will look to have limited fans in the seats, that’s only if they are to be allowed by local authorities. At the same time, entry and withdrawal rules have been adjusted to provide some flexibility to the players.
The possibility still remains that, unless there’s another outbreak of the virus in New York later this summer, the big names will still be there in the end.
The Adria Tour, as anyone who watched it knows, took none of the precautions that the US Open is planning to take at Flushing Meadows. Fans filled the bleachers; ball kids handled the players’ towels; there were handshakes and hugs at the ends of matches and there were virtually no facemasks in sight.
After Dimitrov’s positive test was announced, the Adria Tour defended itself by claiming that it had followed the advice of epidemiologists in Serbia and Croatia. But I think everyone who saw the Adria matches was shocked at the sight of so many mask-free faces in such close proximity to each other.
Obviously, Djokovic, who served as the event’s host and main attraction, has come in for criticism. Equally obviously, tennis now knows that it can’t just go back to normal, the way Djokovic and Adria seemed to hope it could.
Lots of lessons to be learnt from Adria, no doubt.