When and how will tennis return?

Match Points is a talk show about tennis, hosted by Josh Cohen for Tennis Majors. In the second episode, our three guests talked about how and when professional tennis, as we know it, might return.

May 12, 2020

Our three guests are Serena Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou, the ATP world number 225 Noah Rubin (founder of Behind the Racquet) and the American journalist Ben Rothenberg.

The first topic for discussion was whether tennis might actually be well-suited to the new social distancing rules, with players at either end of the court. With the Ultimate Tennis Showdown (UTS), the brainchild of Mouratoglou, scheduled to begin in June behind closed doors, maybe tennis will be ahead of the game?

“Could tennis be the first sport to return?”, asked Josh Cohen.

“Tennis is great because there’s not supposed to be contact between the players, except when they shake hands at the end, which is probably not going to happen. The only thing they share is the balls and (for the UTS) we had a lot of discussions on how we can find a way so they don’t share the balls – each player has his own balls that he touches with his hand. We have thought about everything possible in order to make sure that the players would not take any risks by playing the tournament”, said Mouratoglou.  

Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic shake hands after their 2011 semi-final in Paris.

Tennis behind closed doors?

With restrictions still in place over large crowds, does fanless tennis make sense on the ATP and WTA Tours?

“Tournaments are now doing the maths to see what happens when you subtract all ticket sales, all food and beverage, all hospitality suites, the VIP sections. Certain tournaments can make that work, especially the Grand Slams, which have the bigger TV deals. But TV ratings are not enough to keep a tournament afloat like in the NFL or NBA. It will take some compromising. What if the US Open said, we can play, with no fans, but you get 30 percent of the prize money. Would the players accept that offer? They might be reluctant to but it might be how the financial reality is”, said Rothenberg.

The ATP and WTA Tours would like to return as soon as possible but their hands are tied by government regulations as Covid-19 remains a threat around the world. If the Tours are not able to resume in 2020, when should they start up again?

“I think it’s about science. When there is a vaccine and everyone can get it, I think there will be a green light pretty quickly in tennis and things can go close to back to normal, but that might be more than a year away”, Rothenberg said.

Who decides?

The trio then discuss the issue of who decides when tennis should return – a topic that brings up the old chestnut of conflicts of interest in tennis – before moving on to ask whether the UTS, and events like it, are the answer until things return to something close to normal.

“Players want to play, they feel the need to compete, so if we can manage to do it I think it’s great for them, I think it’s great for fans around the world. We can do it without a crowd, which makes it possible and that’s the beauty of it”, said Mouratoglou.

Listen to the full debate here on TennisMajors.com

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