While tennis will always be regarded as an upper-echelon pursuit, full of soft applause and a pastoral attitude as the fans stroke their beards, cluck their tongues, and wonder what’s to be done with the rabble outside the walls, in reality, it’s always a gentle breeze away some kind of disagreement with itself. That’s not just John McEnroe disproportionately yelling at a chair umpire merely to entertain himself.
Off the court, tennis can’t stop arguing with itself.
Most of that has to do with having various entities having to agree with each other. There’s two separate tours, the ATP for the men and WTA for the women. There are player committees within those, though there have been pushes for a union in the past. There are the separate tournaments and their sponsors, TV interests, and sponsors overall. This is why change comes to tennis about once every comet.
With coronavirus throwing the world into chaos, something that is not built for unity is going to have some problems navigating the post-shutdown world. That’s where tennis finds itself.
Today, a German tennis official let the cat out of the bag that Wimbledon is likely to be canceled this summer. According to the official, playing behind closed doors is not an option the tournament is willing to consider, and with various travel bans and restrictions, who knows if having a crowd would be allowed anytime soon. The postponement of the Olympics opened up a slightly later date in the tennis calendar near the end of July, but that’s apparently still going to come too soon, at least in the opinion of Wimbledon officials.
This was not the same fashion the French Open decided to take, the other major to have acted. And their response was decidedly spiky, decidedly French. Fédération Française de Tennis moved the French Open to the end of September without asking anyone, which is pretty much central casting. It only could have been better if they had gotten Inspector Clouseau to make the announcement.
The September 20 start date for the French Open is a headache for myriad reasons. One, it comes right on the heels of the still-scheduled U.S. Open, which would conclude on Sept. 13. Perhaps the French federation is anticipating that the U.S. Open will have to be moved as well. Or perhaps it doesn’t give a fuck. Given Gallic attitudes, the smart money is on the latter. Needless to say, players were not warm to the idea of playing two Grand Slams back-to-back.
Secondly, that’s when the Laver Cup is scheduled in Boston. That’s tennis’ answer to golf’s Ryder Cup, and has become an extremely popular weekend in the sport over the past three years. It also just happens to be Roger Federer’s baby, put on by his promotional company, and it’s not going to just simply surrender the dates to even the French Open. And seeing as how Federer arguably still carries the biggest name in the sport, his tournament is a pretty sizable foe. Especially if he gets other big names such as Rafael Nadal to side with the Laver Cup over the French Open.
That may sound silly, when you’re talking about a three-day exhibition that’s only been around three years versus a Grand Slam event. But, of course, the deciding factor is money. Federer and Nadal reportedly get millions to show up for the Laver Cup, while other players receive money they would only get by making the semifinals or better at Roland Garros. Even with the prestige of a Grand Slam, it’s easy to understand why even a top player would opt for the automatic three-day payday instead of the two week slog to earn the same or better. And that would be coming off the previous two-week slog in New York, if things remain scheduled as are. You would think French Open officials aren’t going to want to stage a tournament without most of the top-10 men’s players. Then again, they are the French...
The cancellation of Wimbledon already, as well as the postponing of the Olympics, make it clear that those at the top don’t see a way to have attended events even in the middle of this summer. Which makes the Premier League’s abstract, closed-door Palooza plans seem explicable and yet totally bonkers at the same time.
This being tennis, you can book that the solutions will make just about everyone unhappy.