April 16, 2020

Keeping Tennis Alive...#TogetherApart

Well here we are in mid-April and no closer to the end of seeing the coronavirus's impact on daily life around the world. And as we've discussed plenty over the last few weeks, tennis is far from immune from the effects -- and those extend far beyond the obvious cancellations of some of the biggest events in sports for at least three more months, likely much longer.

But the tennis community is doing its part to help its members during these very uncertain times. After all, the sport is not just about the professionals lucky enough to sit atop the ATP and WTA or those winning those events. There are hundreds of thousands of athletes -- from those who plod away on tour with double and triple digit rankings, who foot their own bills to fly to and enter tournaments with only a chance at earning a couple thousand dollars a week, to those who run local clubs and coach casual players, to those who hope one day to be the Next Big Thing -- who are, like so many others, indefinitely out of work.

Today the USTA, the body which runs the U.S. Open, said it would commit over $50 million to help support the industry, offering grants to facilities, instructors and other organizations so they can get back up and running when restrictions are finally lifted.

"The foundation of our sport begins with these stakeholders, and we need to ensure they can weather the storm and remain viable as the storm recedes. This is all about relief, recovery and rebuild for our industry." - USTA CEO Mike Dowse.

On the relief side, the Mutua Madrid Open last week announced a pretty ingenious way to help those pros who are struggling without any opportunity to earn prize money. As we've noted before, just because tennis is your full-time job, doesn't mean you're living the high life.

So the Tier 1 clay court event, run by the wonderful Feliciano Lopez, which was supposed to be contested the first week of May, is now holding a virtual (yes -- that means video games!) tournament at the end of April, where winners will vie for a €350,000 (about $380,000) purse that can be donated to players in need. Among the top-notch stars putting down their tennis rackets in exchange for game controllers are Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Victoria Azarenka, and defending Madrid champ Kiki Bertens. And they're already training up!

As for the return of actual play -- well we're all still waiting on that. In its announcement today, the USTA said it currently still plans to hold the U.S. Open at the end of summer, but a final decision won't likely come for a few months. There's some talk of staging the event without fans, an idea being floated by some other sports organizations. And to some extent, without real person-to-person contact, tennis, like golf, is probably better suited to that option than, say, football or the NBA, but officials say there's still a risk on court and organizers didn't yet seem ready to pull the trigger on green-lighting empty stadiums.

Whatever they decide though, it's imperative that we have a sport to come back to at some point over the next few months. Initiatives like the USTA grants and Madrid's virtual tournament are just a start in providing the support that's needed, and hopefully we'll see more programs over the next few months. And when we get through all of this, here's hoping the sport comes out better for it.

No comments: