The coronavirus pandemic has been a very tough time in the history of mankind. Many of our fellow humans have perished and the world has had to band together to fight the virus and try to find some sense of normalcy again.
Coronavirus has hit the tennis community particularly hard, with tournaments cancelled from early March until August. The WTA is the first of the tours back, resuming play in Palermo on August 3rd. The ATP will be returning on August 17th.
Yet, before the official return of the WTA and ATP Tours, tennis fans have been treated to World Team Tennis, a three-week team competition. Typically, the nine-team league would play matches in the different cities that bear the teams’ names. However, this season, all matches are taking place at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia (USA).
It’s been an exciting season, with the Philadelphia Freedom, Orlando Storm, Chicago Smash, and New York Empire set to fight it out in the playoffs for the World Team Tennis championship!
The league is operating in a bubble, with many rules and regulations in place. These restrictions include quarantining upon arrival, multiple coronavirus tests, food/drink regulations, and having less people on the court outside of the players. The number of spectators allowed entry to the event is limited.
World Team Tennis has been very strict with how they have handled player safety. Danielle Collins, a player for the Orlando Storm, was kicked out of the league for not staying on The Greenbrier premises throughout the event. The bubble concept was truly being taken seriously by league management.
And, the approach used by World Team Tennis has worked. On July 22nd, the league announced 0 positive case results, and there has been 0 reports of positive cases since then. There’s a lot that other tennis events could learn from the way that World Team Tennis has handled coronavirus.
So, what does this have to do with the US Open? Well, through having the Western & Southern Open and the US Open in New York, the WTA and ATP Tours are trying to have their own tennis bubble. The Western & Southern Open is typically played in the Cincinnati metro area.
There’s been much discussion on social media about whether or not the Western & Southern Open and the US Open are safe to compete at. Just yesterday, WTA World No. 1 Ash Barty stated that she would not be heading to the United States for tennis’ resumption. Individual players have different risk tolerance levels and it’s ok that not every player feels safe playing these events in a country that has had a tough time with the coronavirus.
Yet, here we have a tennis league with nine different teams, 60 players, and 20 coaches, go off without a hitch. Not to mention the 95 other staff members involved in running the event and even the small number of fans let into the venues! As we approach the playoffs, CEO of World Team Tennis Carlos Silva should be beaming with pride in terms of how he has handled the pandemic’s impacts on his league.
World Team Tennis has provided a blueprint, of sorts, in terms of how to properly handle the coronavirus pandemic in a tennis bubble. The USTA should study what Carlos Silva has done with World Team Tennis, compare it to the Health and Safety plan they’ve released, and try to replicate it to the best of their abilities at the Western & Southern Open, and ultimately the US Open.
Of course, World Team Tennis had the remoteness of The Greenbrier in West Virginia to its advantage. It’s a lot easier to tell players to not go out at night when you’re in West Virginia compared to New York City. Also, since players self-select to be on a World Team Tennis team, perhaps the players that agreed to go to The Greenbrier were more willing to adhere to the tennis bubble concept than the general tennis player population.
We’ve already seen Alexander Zverev ignore the need to self-isolate and similar behavior during the US Open could cause the event to collapse. It is going to take a team effort from everyone involved, as seen at World Team Tennis. And it’s going to take harsh discipline for those that aren’t able to conform, such as the case with Collins.
World Team Tennis has showed that a weeks-long, large tennis event can be played safely within the United States. This provides confirmation that a tennis bubble can be constructed even in America, and give players (and fans) hope that the US Open can also be played safely.
Like the US Open, World Team Tennis has a Health and Safety plan. But, a plan is useless if not executed correctly. World Team Tennis provided a roadmap for the execution of proper health and safety procedures.
Let’s hope that the USTA can follow suit.