The tennis season has been shut down and all rankings frozen until 7 June, effectively sidestepping the French Open in late May but keeping Wimbledon, three weeks later, safe for now.
When the French Tennis Federation (FFT) on Tuesday unilaterally tried to shift the second major of the season from May to September, supposedly to escape the threat of coronavirus but also clearly to secure the viability of their event later in the year, they were ready for a roasting by the ATP and the WTA, and this was it.
While the other organisations have no provenance over grand slam events, the tough response of the bodies running the men’s and women’s Tours will hurt the French, who surely will reconsider their strategy having angered players and administrators across the sport.
“Now is not a time to act unilaterally, but in unison,” the ATP and the WTA said in a joint statement on Wednesday evening. “All decisions related to the impact of the coronavirus require appropriate consultation and review with the stakeholders in the game, a view that is shared by ATP, WTA, ITF, AELTC, Tennis Australia, and USTA.”
But not, as yet, the FFT. Behind the scenes, the French tried to persuade their 12-time champion, Rafael Nadal, to commit to the new dates, which would require him to abandon his involvement in the concurrent Laver Cup, a team event pitting the best players in Europe against a star squad from the rest of the world. The Spaniard has not publicly declared his allegiance.
Roger Federer, recuperating from knee surgery at least until Wimbledon and unlikely to have played on the Roland Garros clay whatever the date, is a key financial backer of the Laver Cup. He brings with him Alexander Zverev, a client of his promotional company, and has the enthusiastic support of Nick Kyrgios, one of the game’s most marketable players and unlikely to worry about missing the French Open.
In their joint statement, the ATP and WTA said, “After careful consideration, and due to the continuing outbreak of Covid-19, all ATP and WTA tournaments in the Spring clay-court swing will not be held as scheduled.
“This includes the combined ATP/WTA tournaments in Madrid and Rome, along with the WTA events in Strasbourg and Rabat and ATP events in Munich, Estoril, Geneva and Lyon.
“The professional tennis season is now suspended through 7 June, including the ATP Challenger Tour and ITF World Tennis Tour. At this time, tournaments taking place from 8 June onwards [which includes Queen’s] are still planning to go ahead as per the published schedule. In parallel, the FedEx ATP Rankings and WTA Rankings will be frozen throughout this period and until further notice.”
The extension of the ATP’s suspension from 27 April, and the WTA’s closure from 20 April, sent a clear signal to the French that their immediate priority was not the reallocation of dates to save tournaments, but the management of the current schedule, regardless of the collateral cost to individual events, big and small.
The statement, couched diplomatically in the main, contained another barb reserved solely for the FFT, whose tournament might not now go ahead as scheduled in the fortnight from 24 May, and who had ignored objections to the new dates in September that not only follow a mere week after the conclusion of the US Open but clash directly with the Laver Cup in Boston.
The ATP/WTA statement observed “the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic to professional tennis demand greater collaboration than ever from everyone in the tennis community in order for the sport to move forward collectively in the best interest of players, tournaments and fans.
“We are assessing all options related to preserving and maximising the tennis calendar based on various return dates for the Tours, which remains an unknown at this time. We are committed to working through these matters with our player and tournament members, and the other governing bodies, in the weeks and months ahead.”