“Roger Federer could not have picked a better time to have surgery”, “Roger Federer is on a break from tennis, and so tennis has been stopped”, and so on and so forth. Variations of these statements have been swirling on social media channels, especially on Twitter in the past few days coinciding with the intensifying worry about the Covid-19 outbreak.
Undeniably, comments like these offer some levity to the feeling of chaos and helplessness that has seeped onto the sport that has been reeling with the sudden cancelling of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. Even as the players had started to congregate at the venue, with the draw almost on the verge of being announced, the tournament organisers put up a tweet stating that the event would not be held this year.
The way they chose to inform everyone – not just the public but also the players – aggravated tempers, ranging from ire to frustration, and even to despair. In such times, a throwback to the Swiss does seem like a distraction – even if Federer has not had any part in rerouting the course of the tennis season in this fashion.
Speaking of Federer, it has been reiterated that only can he not only be analogised in several ways but also across myriad subjects and topics. One such way of doing so would be correlating the 20-time Slam champion to a tree whose roots are just as deep within as much as its branches are spread out in a unique and unmatched canopy.
And, as with trees, while Federer the player remains an integral part of men’s tennis, the continued reliance on him – even to lighten the atmosphere – divulges the imbalance in the sport much stronger than ever before.
This also leaves the question as to what tennis would do and how it would be once the man retired? For, let us face it – now or later – Federer’s retirement is imminent and it would be doing him a disservice to expect him to play for as long as we want rather than adhering to his personal choices.
From this perspective, it also does not help tennis’ cause that it has to take the aid of a player who is rehabbing-from-surgery into prominence instead of focusing on there not being a better-concretised plan of action vis-à-vis tournaments.
Right after Indian Wells’ cancellation, Andrea Gaudenzi, the ATP Chairman issued a statement on the development. The statement read, “While we regret that the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells will not take place, the ATP Tour calendar beyond Indian Wells remains as status quo.
We continue to monitor the situation daily, working closely with our player and tournament members with the understanding that direction must be taken from local public health authorities. We are committed to exploring all options for the operation of upcoming tournaments as the health and safety of our players and all other stakeholders remain our top priority.
Any further updates will be communicated on ATP platforms”. Gaudenzi’s WTA counterpart, Steve Simon, in his own statement, offered, “First and foremost, there isn't anything more important than protecting the health of our players, staff, volunteers and fans who attend our events… The WTA empathises with those affected by the coronavirus in this region and around the world…It is too soon to speculate about what will happen to other tournaments that follow.
We will continue to closely monitor the situation. Health and safety will always come first”. Despite the reassurances sought to be provided by these communications, the obviousness of the scenario cannot be downplayed.
That, for the foreseeable future, tennis is in limbo and that despite these messages from the parent bodies of men’s and women’s tennis, things are not exactly streamlined. On the ATP Main Tour, the Miami Open, the next big event lined up after Indian Wells, clarified that it was not cancelled but also inserted the proviso that the situation was being monitored alongside governmental authorities.
Meanwhile, the Barcelona Open cancelled its planned on-site presentation event to announce the full list of players participating in its 2020 edition while not only reaffirming the event’s schedule but also mentioning that they, too, were taking stock of the situation alongside competent authorities.
The Monte Carlo Rolex Masters has issued its directive that it is monitoring the situation as well while mentioning that the event could be held behind without spectators if the need arose. On the ATP Challenger Tour, the Nur-Sultan and Potchefstroom Challengers are taking place although German and French players have had to leave the Kazakh event, partway in light of recent developments to avoid quarantine.
Apart from the ATP and WTA roster, events on the ITF circuit, too, are majorly being played without any stoppages. Each section of the tour is going in its own direction contradicting its administrators’ premise of prioritising the health of players and other stakeholders.
Therefore, tennis needs to choose with a finality now. Either, it opts for precaution in its unequivocalness: i.e. no play whatsoever while accounting for a level field in terms of money (wherever possible) and ranking points.
Or, worse still, it lives through the prospect of belying its promise of play, at the farthest possible juncture, again and again. Photo Credit: Ben Solomon/Laver Cup