March 9, 2020


We are living in highly unusual times.

Last night, organizers of this year's BNP Paribas Open announced that the tournament, one of the biggest events of the season, would not be held due to concerns over the spreading coronavirus.

It's not the most surprising decision given what's going on. For weeks we've been seeing measures taken to rein in the spread -- companies restricting employee travel to impacted areas and encouraging work from home, major corporations like Facebook and Amazon pulling out of huge industry conferences and scrapping their own. Just Friday SXSW cancelled its annual festival in Austin, Texas, a decision that could cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars.

So it makes sense that Indian Wells would be affected too. California Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday declared a state of emergency, and last week the tournament released a list of precautions it was taking, barring ball kids from handling player towels or drinks and telling players not to toss shirts or headbands to fans after matches. But as the situation in the U.S., particularly on the west coast, gets more severe, event staff ultimately decided they were better safe than sorry.

Tennis players, after all, are required to travel all over the world on a weekly basis, and some of their stops on tour are in places that have been particularly hard hit. Davis Cup matches were held over the weekend in Japan, where there have been more than a thousand confirmed cases of the virus and whose government has been sharply criticized for its handling of the disease, as well as in Cagliari, Italy, where the stadium was open only to officials and media. And of course the epicenter of everything is Wuhan, China, a city most of my friends and colleagues had never heard of before, but which we all know as the site of a huge WTA event at the end of the season.

Still, the timing of the cancellation is interesting, coming just hours after Steve Johnson and Irina-Camelia were crowned champions of the Challenger events being held at the very same venue that would house this week's matches. And wildcards had just been awarded to teens Caty McNally and Leylah Fernandez, as well as Aussie standout Tennys Sandgren and an on-the-mend Jack Sock. Qualifying events were scheduled to start today and many players had already made their way to the grounds. It's certainly a disappointment for those looking to make their debuts at such a premier event.

But some players were already thinking of skipping not only Indian Wells, considered by many to be the fifth Grand Slam, but also Miami, with similar prestige, which is currently still slated to start in two weeks' time. Fabio Fognini, who helped Italy get past South Korea over the weekend and qualify for the Davis Cup finals, said he was thinking about skipping both events despite what it would mean for his ranking -- he was eager to get match play after some recent early exits. Now, I assume, the cancellation means everyone essentially forfeits any points they may have accumulated or defended during the fortnight, so no one is necessarily hurt more than anyone else.

If the virus, though, persists deeper into the spring it could hit the European clay court season hard -- Italy just advised cancelling all sporting events until at least April, and that's just a few weeks before the Rome Masters tournament, nevermind the French Open, Wimbledon, and, lest we forget, the Tokyo Olympics.

The cancellation of Indian Wells has an impact not only on the players. The California desert city was expecting some half a million visitors for the event, and their absence could take a big bite out of the economy. And while tournament director Tommy Haas is leaving open the possibility of rescheduling the event for some time later this season, it's unclear when, during an already-packed calendar, that could be.

To be clear, all these measures are unquestionably necessary -- the priority of course is first and foremost the health and safety of everyone involved -- but it's going to require a lot of adjustments. Hopefully in a few weeks time, this will all be past us and things will start returning to normal, as much as they can, anyway.

But until then everyone take care of yourselves and each other.

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