IN A list of Risk Levels that’s been circulating in Viber, with “going to Bars” scoring a very risky 9 and “playing Basketball” a high 8, the risk level for Tennis is “1,” the safest of sports. This is understandable. If you talk of social distancing, your opponent is 78 feet away—the length of the tennis court. Your strongest Maria Sharapova-like scream won’t cough out any viruses from across that far net.
But tennis is in a quandary. Wimbledon has been canceled—the first time since World War II (1945).
The US Open is scheduled soon, set from Aug. 31 to Sept. 13. Like the NBA, it will be a crowd-less match—no spectators. That’s a given in all sports this year. But even with that strict ruling, obstacles are aplenty.
One, the US Open is in New York—the site of what was previously a danger zone for Covid-19 cases (386,000+ afflicted with 30,500+ deaths).
Two, the ironclad restrictions the organizers are imposing on the players. They include: 1) forcing the players to stay in a hotel outside Manhattan; 2) limiting the support team to just one person per player; 3) no singles qualifying; 4) only 24 doubles teams instead of the usual 64. It’s envisioned to be a “tennis bubble.”
Roger Federer is out of the Open. He’s had a second surgery on his right knee. Rafa Nadal is out sunbathing with his new wife Xisca Perello and his new yacht, an 80-foot luxurious boat costing $6.2 million. Said Rafa: “If you ask me today if I want to travel today to New York to play a tennis tournament, I will say no, I will not.”
Novak Djokovic, the world’s No. 1, has voiced the loudest opposition.
“Most of the players I have talked to were quite negative on whether they would go there,” said the Serb. “The rules that they told us that we would have to respect to be there, to play at all, they are extreme. We would not have access to Manhattan, we would have to sleep in hotels at the airport, to be tested twice or three times per week. Also, we could bring one person to the club, which is really impossible. I mean, you need your coach, then a fitness trainer, then a physiotherapist.”
Valid points, Novak. But while the Top 3 won’t join or remain undecided, others want to resume. (The US Open organizers have to make a decision whether to proceed or not by next week.)
Dan Evans, ranked 28th, disagrees with Djokovic on the one-assistant-only policy, saying, “Not everyone’s travelling with physios and fitness trainers like Novak said, so I think his argument there is not really valid for the rest of the draw, apart from the real top guys.”
My take? Djokovic won’t skip the US Open. He’s undefeated this 2020 and, during the lockdown, he stayed in Spain and trained daily because his friend owned a tennis court. He also has 17 Grand Slam titles compared to the 19 of Rafa and 20 of Roger.
Don’t you think he wants to win the last two majors in New York and in Paris (the French Open is scheduled from Sept. 20 to Oct. 4)? He’s just voicing out his complaints to force the US Open officials to relax their draconian rules.
For tennis, it’s: Game. Set. Let’s watch.