This summer’s Wimbledon almost certainly will be abandoned on Wednesday and the Davis Cup Finals in Madrid could be the next major tennis event to fall under the shadow of coronavirus, after an alarming increase of 849 deaths in Spain in one day.
Great Britain, the 2015 champions, qualified automatically for the second staging of the revamped competition in the Spanish capital in November by reaching the semi-finals there last autumn but notices on the Davis Cup website only add to the air of pessimism. “Due to the current global situation caused by the impact of Covid-19,” read a statement, “it is yet to be determined when tickets for the Finals 2020 will go on sale.”
Medical bulletins on Tuesday underlined how problematic it is to contemplate a return to normality before the end of the summer, when it was announced the death toll in Spain rose to 8,189, among an estimated 85,195 infected with coronavirus.
Financially, the project was already marginal. Apart from the presence and ultimate triumph of Rafael Nadal and the Spanish team as 2019 champions, response to the inaugural “World Cup of Tennis” five months ago otherwise was tepid. Several of the early matches failed to attract more than a few hundred spectators in the smaller halls of the Caja Mágica on the outskirts of the capital.
Jamie Murray is the latest player to doubt whether Wimbledon, scheduled to begin on 29 June, will take place. “I think so,” said the two-times mixed doubles champion when asked on BBC Radio 4 if he thought there would be a cancellation. “I think for them it is difficult to move the tournament back for many reasons, because you are running into other tournaments.” Earlier this week, the British Fed Cup player Katie Swan expressed fears Wimbledon may not happen.
The All England Club board has been conferring in a series of telephone hook-ups this week and are expected to bow to the inevitable on Wednesday when they confirm the shutdown of the championships for the first time since the second world war. A move to later in the year is highly unlikely.
The board have already ruled out playing in front of empty stands and there is no inclination to fill the vacancy in the international sporting calendar created by the postponment of the Olympic Games, which were due to begin in late July. It seems certain the next Wimbledon will be in June 2021 – just before the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics.
As shadows lengthen beyond mid-summer, the grass at Wimbledon will be more difficult to maintain, further inhibiting alternatives. Quite apart from practical domestic concerns, there is no room on moral grounds to allow the tournament to go ahead as scheduled, given the daily spread of coronavirus in flashpoints from Spain and Italy, across the United States and now India.
Organisers of other tournaments in the six-week grass-court season will be minded to act in unison with Wimbledon but it is a shifting landscape.
Officials of the Eastbourne International, one of the warm-up tournaments, tweeted a week ago they were, “praying that CoronaVirusUK will be contained in time for end of June.” Five days ago, Eastbourne was “still on”, followed by “very unlikely” and, on Tuesday afternoon, came the message: “We are awaiting the decision of the Lawn Tennis Association.”
There is growing resignation, also, among the sport’s leading stakeholders – including the ITF, who are responsible for the Davis Cup – that the suspension of all tournaments until 7 June, agreed recently by the ATP and the WTA, which run the men’s and women’s tours respectively, will have to be extended.
It is understood there are serious reservations at Kosmos Tennis – which promotes the Davis Cup for the ITF under the leadership of the Barcelona footballer Gerard Piqué – about hosting teams from 18 countries in such a health-threatening environment.
One of the Davis Cup’s five main sponsors, Air Asia, has confirmed it is suspending most of its service. “In view of the Covid-19 pandemic that has led to extensive and increasing border restrictions imposed by various countries, AirAsia Group would like to announce that it is temporarily hibernating most of its fleet across the network,” read a statement.