Sign your own balls: tennis and golf take first tentative steps out of lockdown | Sport

Initial your own balls before stepping on to court. Use hand sanitiser but avoid handshakes before the action begins. And don’t, on any account, touch your opponent’s balls with your hands – but rather use your racquet or foot to flick the ball back to the other side of the net.

These are just some of the guidelines that tennis players will be expected to follow when courts are reopened in England on Wednesday. The LTA, British tennis’s governing body, said it had contacted nearly 5,000 clubs, coaches and venues with its updated advice on how to resume safely – with many confirming they intend to open where feasible to capitalise on the demand for exercise and the forecast settled weather.

“We are pleased that the adjustment of lockdown restrictions mean that people can get back on court and enjoy playing tennis again,” the LTA chief executive, Scott Lloyd, told the Guardian. “Even if you’ve never played or just haven’t played in a while, now is a great time to find a court and get some exercise by playing tennis.”

Sebastien Blanchon, meanwhile, the head coach at Dulwich Lawn Tennis Club, said there was “mayhem” among members when the government confirmed on Monday that the lockdown rules would be relaxed to allow singles matches between people from different households. “Hundreds of emails have been sent and received – it’s just like everybody is throwing themselves at tennis,” he told the Guardian.

Elsewhere Charles Morris, the head coach at Telford Park Lawn Tennis Club, insisted he had no concerns about returning to work. “I think it’s a pretty good sport for social distancing as long as you don’t touch your opponent’s balls,” he added. “When we play singles, we will both mark our balls and only pick up our own.

“I would be more worried if I had to work in a school. Groups of kids are just too difficult. But on an individual basis I think it’s quite easy to control. I think I’m quite optimistic about that.”

A view of the fourth hole at Llanymynech Golf Club, where golfers tee off from Wales and putt in England.
A view of the fourth hole at Llanymynech Golf Club, where golfers tee off from Wales and putt in England. Photograph: Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images

Tennis is not the only sport taking the first tentative steps to open up on Wednesday. England Golf says it is very confident that the vast majority of their 1,800 courses will be open on Wednesday despite the short time frame to prepare – with many reporting massive demand for a tee time. One booking website, Intelligent Golf, showed an error message almost all of Tuesday saying: “We are experiencing extremely high load, please try again shortly.”

Gary Pearce, the managing secretary of Ganton Golf Club in North Yorkshire, also reported a rush of people wanting to play. “On Monday evening, I opened up tee time bookings for a week from Wednesday and it became pretty busy straight away,” he said. “I think we will see an initial surge because a lot of people are very keen to get back out there. We need more tee times than usual simply because of the restriction to two balls whereas people could typically play in fours.”

Jeremy Tomlinson, the England Golf chief executive, admitted that most clubs would have liked more time to prepare but everyone in golf was “working their backsides off” to make sure they were ready in some form to accommodate groups of two going out from early on Wednesday morning.

“We are so excited that we can start again,” he added. “To the best of my knowledge, the majority of those 1,800 golf courses will be open on Wednesday. I don’t know what the exact percentage will be but I think it will be very high. Golf clubs, no matter what their size, will want to get back on the journey to financial stability.

“There is golfer pressure, and not just from the 640,000 golf club members, but there’s another two million who play golf avidly who want to get back to playing. So there’s a great incentive for golf clubs to reopen.”

Tomlinson admitted that many courses will reap no financial benefit from the initial reopening process, with clubhouses and pro shops remaining closed until the latter stages of the lockdown exit plan.

“Without exception, the golf courses in England have been exemplary throughout this time, but the majority of them are creaking under the financial strain,” he added. “They have furloughed staff, they’ve carried out essential maintenance, the general managers and clubs pros have worked together and worked with us in trying to make sure golf courses could reopen at any point.”

Of course, there will be no socialising at the 19th hole for a while yet, while the same tough social distancing guidance also means that post-tennis drinks are still a long way off too. As the advice on the LTA’s website reminds players: “Do not congregate after playing. No extra-curricular or social activity should take place.” Even so, after seven weeks of being unable to hit a ball in anger, stepping on to court or the first tee will feel like blessed relief.

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