Paris (AFP) – As the weeks go by, the globe-trotting world of top-level tennis remains in limbo and the season looks increasingly compromised by the coronavirus pandemic.
A glimmer of hope is emerging however with plans for local tournaments to get the machine up and running again as soon as possible.
“I think there will be more regional prize money tournaments. I think this is what’s going to happen very soon,” Novak Djokovic said on Tuesday during an Instagram live chat with Fabio Fognini.
For the moment, the tennis is suspended until 13 July, though few players believe it will resume at once.
Djokovic said the globe-trotting nature of the tour would work against a smooth resumption as nations come out of lockdown at different times and with different rules.
“Tt will be difficult to start the tour because our tour is every week in different countries,” he said.
“I think there will be regional prize money tournaments, but probably not (rankings) points.”
Austria and Germany have announced plans for competitions in May and June with 32 men, including Dominic Thiem, Philipp Kohlschreiber and Jan-Lennard Struff, and 24 women.
In both countries, the players have already been allowed to resume training.
Thiem, an Austrian, posted a photo on social media showing him at work on a clay court and congratulating himself for “swapping the remote control for a racket”.
– Unconventional proposals –
In France, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and his coach, Thierry Ascione, have suggested a summer tour in the south of France.
“The project will only see the light of day in the event that the tour is further postponed and if the government authorises the organisation of this kind of tournament which will bring together a bit of the public,” Tsonga told Eurosport.
A more ambitious idea has been put forward by Patrick Mouratoglou, who coaches Serena Williams. He proposes organising not a tournament but a league, staring on May 16, behind closed doors at his academy in the south of France. promising “millions of dollars” in prize money and targeting a young on-line audience.
Mouratoglou is a consultant for several television channels and guarantees that the matches will be broadcast on TV, especially as there will be no other live sports at the same time.
He plans 10 matches per weekend for five weeks as part of an event called Ultimate Tennis Showdown (UTS).
To date, four players have been announced: David Goffin, Fognini, Benoit Paire and Alexei Popyrin.
Rafael Nadal has also made his academy on the island of Mallorca available to players.
A statement by the academy said Nadal was discussing with the ATP the possibility of creating “a campus where elite players can reside, train and compete between themselves in matches that will be televised so that fans around the world can enjoy them.”
– Twelve-month break –
Resuming the tours behind closed doors has been suggested, but many tournaments need ticket revenue to break even.
Even for bigger tournaments, playing in front of empty stands is bad for the image.
“Can you imagine a Grand Slam final without anyone in the stands?” Fognini asked Djokovic.
The Tunisian Ons Jabeur, a 25-year-old who started the season with a breakthrough run to the quarter-finals at the Australian Open, has suggested that tennis might resume with team events in the autumn to allow players to earn some money, but added that the ranking tournaments take a break of exactly 12 months.
“Let’s pretend that the end of 2020 was never here,” she told Eurosport.
“Then don’t start by playing the Australian Open since we already played it this year and the other tournaments in the beginning of the year, and then start from Indian Wells, where everybody stopped.
“It’s fair for the other Grand Slams, it’s fair for the points and for everything.”