Are we back to normal? Is tennis picking up where it left off? With the return of Roland Garros almost as originally scheduled (the tournament starts one week later with certain limitations), Wimbledon played on time, and the start of the North American part of the tour scheduled for the Newport Hall of Fame Championship, it seems that way. Heck, even Indian Wells will be played this year.
But I think we still must be cautious. Not just with Covid and the potential fourth wave, but with the state of tennis in general, and things that must be rebuilt.
Let us start with the tournaments. Both the ATP and WTA Tours did a lot to reschedule many events, and the tournaments in Rome and Madrid showed that the level of the game is as high as it can be (well, perhaps apart from the Swiatek-Pliskova Rome finals). Yet the 2021 edition of the National bank Financial Cup (formerly the Rogers Cup) is still not 100% sure. Ontario cancelled many public events (Honda Indy, Carribeana, and even the C.N.E). Recently announced easing off the lockdown restrictions does not guarantee that we will see top players in Toronto and Montreal. Most recent announcement from Tennis Canada even mentioned an option of moving the tournament to the US for 2021. And if that does not work, we are looking at another year without a major tennis event in Canada, and another year of massive financial loss. Loss of funding that would provide for the development of tennis in Canada.
But the major issue will be the smaller tournaments. Tournaments that provide opportunities for lower ranked players to get some necessary ranking points, and let’s face it, an opportunity to earn a living. Some of those tournaments might not survive, others will be forced to lower their prize money (that happens at many tour events). ITF Tour situation is even more dire. This is what Sara Cakarevic, ranked #410 WTA, posted on Instagram after playing a 25K event in Prague:
”45 euros in income, minus 6.75 euros in taxes, minus 36 euros entry fee … makes: 2.25 euros in earnings. So that’s what you get when you lose 8:10 in the third set against number 291 in the world, and I didn’t even get the 25 cents,” she added. Followed by “Thank you, ITF, for the free coffee.” – Cakarevic
Oliver Marach, 2018 Australian Open doubles champion, said that he cannot afford to play tennis anymore, and is planning to retire at the end of the 2021 season. Ranked #31 in doubles, now living in the Bahamas, he explained that he can make more money from his coaching lessons than on the tour, while still spending time with his family, whom he is not seeing for most of the year due to the pandemic.
But the biggest issue is the situation of younger players. Their lost opportunities to train, compete, gain experience etc. Add to that the isolation and lack of training opportunities, cancelled tournaments, elimination of tennis programs in many universities… all will likely take its toll on the up-and-coming generation of tennis players.
So what can be done? Most recent statement from the Hollywood celebrities said: without the audience, there are no movies; please come back to the theatres. Something similar can be said about tennis. Without tennis fans, there is no game of tennis (watching 2020 Roland Garros with empty seats was somewhat of a strange experience); without events that create opportunities for the younger players to compete, learn and improve, to build their careers, there is no tennis either. Without opportunities for the tennis fans to enjoy the game, watching, as well as playing, tennis might be in trouble.
Let’s hope all those worries will be a thing of the past in the not-so-distant future. I’m confident if we continue to advocate and, most importantly, celebrate our sport, better days are to come for the game we all love.
By Peter Figura, author of “The Future of Tennis: A Photographic Celebration of the Men’s Tour”
Available on Amazon
Follow Peter’s photographic journey on Instagram