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Tennis News • Washington D.C. Cancels Tourney • Restart Tour For ATP|WTA Stopped, Because How Do You Make A “Bubble”?

The Citi Open in Washington, DC was cancelled on Tuesday.

By Alix Ramsay

Well that didn’t last long. More than three weeks before the scheduled start of the Citi Open in Washington, DC – the first event on the men’s tour after the five-month Covid-19 shutdown – the event was cancelled on Tuesday. Tennis’s restart had stopped before it had even begun.

The announcement came after days of speculation and rumour. It is not so much the virus itself that seems to be the problem; it is the logistics of getting players both in and out of the United States that has proved to be the ultimate barrier.

Border restrictions imposed by countries around the world have made international travel extremely complicated and with tournaments coming thick and fast on different continents, those players who committed to the US summer tournaments would then, in all likelihood, be forced to abandon any plans to play in Europe immediately after.

The Citi Open had been due to start on August 13. From there, the tour was supposed to move immediately to New York for the Western and Southern Open (relocated this year from Cincinnati to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens) and the US Open. But with infection rates still high in the US, with Europe closing its borders to travellers from the US and with more and more players voicing concerns about playing in America, there were more problems than solutions. Health and safety issues coupled with a good dose of common sense prevailed and Mark Ein, the tournament’s chairman, admitted defeat.

“With only 23 days left until the start of the tournament, there are too many unresolved external issues,” he said in an official statement, “including various international travel restrictions as well as troubling health and safety trends, that have forced us to make this decision now in fairness to our players, suppliers and partners, so that they can have certainty around their planning.

“In these days, health and safety needs to remain the number one priority.”

Nick Kyrgios of Australia holds the winner’s trophy after winning the 2019 Citi Open.

As of now, the Western and Southern Open and the US Open are still going ahead but that does beg the question: what is likely to change in the eight days between what was to have been the start of the event in Washington and the start of the rejigged Cincinnati tournament?

If sorting out the travel issues for 64 singles players in Washington was too difficult, how is the USTA going to solve the problems faced by 256 singles players arriving for the New York double header? And how are they going to get them back to Europe in time to play in the Masters 1000 events in Madrid and Rome before the start of the French Open on September 27?

Those three tournaments, all mixed events, run consecutively and without pausing for breath from the moment play is concluded at the US Open. Unless all those who wish to play on the red clay see fit to lose in the first week of the US Open, they are not going to make it back to Europe in time to do a potential 14-day stint in quarantine in order to be cleared to play before the start of Roland Garros (that is if they are allowed into Europe at all). And that is before anyone even mentions training, practice and preparation for another grand slam.

No matter – the USTA remains bullish about its prospects. In a statement, the organisation claimed that Washington’s problems would have no effect on the plans for New York.

As reported by Tennishead.net, the statement read: “This decision in no way impacts the US Open or the Western & Southern Open. The USTA will create a safe and controlled environment for players and everyone else involved in both tournaments that mitigates health risks that was approved by the State of New York and also conforms to the standards put forth by New York City and the federal government. We constantly base our decisions regarding hosting these tournaments on our three guiding principles that include safety and health of all involved, whether hosting these events are in the best interest in the sport of tennis and whether this decision is financially viable. We are confident we remain in-line with all three guiding principles.”

Yet policing that “controlled environment” remains problematic. In West Virginia, the CEO of World TeamTennis, Carlos Silva, issued a short but damning statement about Danielle Collins on Monday.

Danielle Collins has been dismissed for the remainder of the 2020 WTT season.

We have dismissed Danielle Collins for the remainder of the 2020 World TeamTennis season after breaking our COVID-19 protocols and leaving the Greenbrier Resort and the state of West Virginia. The protocols have been put in place and communicated numerous times to protect the health and safety of our players, coaches and staff, which are of utmost importance to WTT.”

No further information was released about where Collins went or why but Silva was adamant that rules were rules – and she had broken them. She had been sacked.

Whether the USTA would be quite so strict should one of the US Open players venture outside the secure bio-bubble remains to be seen. Should that player be the world No.98 who just fancied a coffee and a bit of sightseeing in Manhattan, it is perfectly possible that world would come tumbling down around his or her ears. But if that player were ranked in the top 10 and be through to the quarter-finals, what would happen then? And let’s face it, if we have learned one thing from the attempted restarting of the tennis tours it is that players simply cannot be trusted to sit in their hotel rooms watching daytime TV and ordering room service.

World TeamTennis runs for three weeks and this year, due to Covid planning issues, is being held at the one venue in White Sulphur Springs. And Collins made her bolt for freedom after only a week. The two tournaments in New York will also run over three weeks with all players locked down in and around the tennis site. With all due respect to the borough of Queens, that area is not the most salubrious nor exciting place to spend your time. Particularly not if you happen to be young, fit, flush with a few dollars and chock full of energy. How long, then, before someone tries to break out of the bubble and live a little?

Of the world’s top 100 men, only eight come from the United States. The rest come from countries where the virus infection rates are less than in the US and where there are, for the most part, reciprocal arrangements about international travel. Why would any player risk the European clay court swing for the sake of two tournaments in America? Just last month, when the Citi Open was still on the schedule, Jamie Murray could not see the logic in it.

Rafael Nadal of Spain after winning the 2019 French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France.

“A lot will depend on what you can do once you finish the tournament in terms of getting to Europe,” he said. “If I have the option of playing one Masters Series and one grand slam or two Masters Series and one grand slam because of quarantines, then I will choose two Masters Series and one grand slam.

“And I’d imagine for the ATP it would be very difficult to support the US Open going ahead if the draw has to quarantine coming back to Europe where they have two Masters Series and another grand slam.”

At the moment, it looks like it will be game, set and match to Covid-19. The ball, though, is still in the USTA’s court and we wait to see what they are going to do with it.