July 11, 2020

Wimbledon Serves Up Some Relief

In another world, we would have crowned the 2020 Wimbledon champions this weekend.

But instead we are now in month five of the COVID-induced lockdown, and while there are certainly signs that things are starting to get back to normal, for better or worse, for most people it will be a long time before usual routines -- and paychecks -- are restored.

And that's what makes Wimbledon's announcement yesterday so extraordinary.

In an unprecedented move, the All England Lawn Tennis Club announced it would award more than £10 million in "prize money" to the players who would have competed in the event -- including qualifying tournaments and doubles draws.

"We know these months of uncertainty have been very worrying for [the players], many of whom have faced financial difficulty during this period and who would have quite rightly anticipated the opportunity to earn prize money at Wimbledon based on their world ranking," AELTC CEO Richard Lewis said in a statement.

"We are now in a position to offer this payment as a reward for the hard work they have invested in building their ranking to a point where they would have gained direct entry into The Championships 2020."

It bares noting that Wimbledon had the foresight to take out pandemic insurance, something organizations of all stripes now wish they had done, and was reportedly paid out some £110 million on the policy.

Still it's a solid gesture for the players who would otherwise have missed out on any payment. Of course, it's a far cry from what players could have made -- the highest payout of £25,000 for main draw singles is about half of what players who lost in the first round last year took home -- but certainly better than the alternative.

And it comes at a time when the future of professional tennis remains uncertain.

After the debacle that was the Adria Tour, an exhibition in Atlanta became the new beacon of ill-advised tournaments, with John Isner this time serving as villain after Frances Tiafoe tested positive for the virus.

While the U.S. Open is still planning to go on as planned at the end of the summer, what the field will look like is entirely up in the air. Simona Halep, Rafael Nadal, and even the much-maligned Novak Djokovic have all expressed doubts about coming.

And logistically, travel from parts of Europe, including Spain, the Czech Republic, Germany and more countries home to many of the top names in the sport, is still banned, and New York State specifically is requiring two weeks of quarantine for anyone who's been to high-risk regions in the U.S., like Florida where so many players train. That doesn't make for the easiest of planning.

The frustrating thing is that tennis is one of the lowest-risk activities you can do in these very strange times -- no physical contact, far apart from your opponent, outdoors. So it's unfortunate that we can't figure out a way to hold these events safely.

But as much as we pine for a day when we can again see shots that defy all comprehension and legendary champions crowned on Centre Court, we must first make sure we can do so without threat.

And hopefully Wimbledon's latest move bought us a little time to do that.

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