Coronavirus: Squeezing the 2020 tennis year

By staff writers

Question: What to do with the 2020 tennis year in the time of the coronavirus quarantine?

We can pretend that in three-and-a-half months, the players will walk on the court and will play in the matches on the ATP and WTA tours. 

Obviously, the coronavirus pandemic has become the biggest threat to professional tennis in the Open era. The elongate shutdown – starting with Indian Wells in March – has created havoc for the tours, tournaments (including the feeder tours), national governing bodies and the ITF. The support staffs, including officials, physios, agents, etc. have all been hit hard. A year without Wimbledon … it’s worse than shocking, it’s numbing.

But, no group has had it rougher than the lower-ranked players. Considering the years that they have worked, trained and practiced to get into or near the top 100, they are now going months without tournament earnings. These are the players who don’t have the clout to do television commercials or appear in magazine ads, earning substantial off-court income. This financial burden could put some outstanding players into a career-wrenching stall. The players really want to play the events and not just stay at home. We care about these players and hope the tours and tournaments can make some adjustments to get as many players back on court and earning prize money.

Hopefully, our tireless doctors, nurses, researchers and other medical staff will somehow get us through this mess. The next step is to get players back into tournaments, whether with or without fans.

The Quebec government has canceled the women’s edition of the Canadian Open. The question is when will they play every week, starting in Toronto (for the men), Cincinnati, the US Open, Roland Garros and then the Asian swing? But, is it fair to the spring tournaments to just watch their franchises suffer?

The fans really want to see play resume at the tournaments, whether in person or on television. But, how can you put on a tournament, especially with fans, if everyone has to stay six feet apart?

Squeezing down

If play resumes in August (that may be a big “if”), it will mean five months of tennis will be lost. How can you squeeze 10 months of tennis into five?

Play less, play shorter. That may mean making some hard decisions on how tournaments are played in 2020. Any real changes could also affect pro tennis after the coronavirus is defeated or disseminated.

Do you like the three out of five at the Slams, or do you want to see them in just two out of three? The very best players — as Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic have won 56 Grand Slams — can take down most every opponent in the majors. They do it year after year because, when they are playing beyond three hours, they wear the lesser players down. Physically and mentally. So, few men have won the majors because their opponents are exhausted. That is huge, and that is why these great players rarely lose in the majors.

When watching at home, we can find some five-setters riveting. Others, even in finals, not so much. The endless trek through five sets just runs too long. Casual fans have to wonder if it makes sense to sit and watch TV for four-plus hours.

How do you condense tournaments? Shorter matches and less players in some tournaments so other competitors can play in other tournaments.

So, we think the majors and tours should start rethinking their match schedules. Consider reducing the length of the 2020 slams to 10 days. Changing week-long tournaments to five days. Give tournaments the their week slots they lost from March to July and then move the competitions to late summer and fall.

Here are some solutions. With the men, at the US Open and Roland Garros, use two out of three sets, rather than three out of five. For the women, who already use two out of three, they can switch to the best of two sets and then use a match tiebreak, not another set. Plus, at these Slams, instead of having a 128-player draw, they can go down to 96 or 64. Instead of using two full weeks, they can reduce them to 10 days. That could work. 

Of course, everyone’s goal should be to make more playing opportunities to the lower-ranked players. They don’t have revenue streams from huge endorsement deals. So, before the main draw, the all 2020 tournaments could expand the qualies. Additionally, they could reduce those matches to two short sets and a match tiebreak. The matches would contain added intensity from the first point.

That would be a blast. That may be a real solution to heal the coronavirus wounds and salvage the 2020 tennis year.