The crisis descends, the sorrow is deep. Confusion and doubt reign, their grip is tight. We’ve never faced a free-fall quite like this. The world has hit the pause button. Reason has been battered, we’re shell-shocked. How do we cope?
We’re told, “Be calm, but take action. Safety first, science matters. Express love but isolate. Be vigilant – even now there is opportunity for growth.”
We’re in new terrain – there’s no playbook. All sports, all of life faces new dimensions. Almost all of tennis, from league and college play to tourneys big and small, is on hold. While players at local courts still hit winners, the sport has hit a wall. Surely it will bounce back – but the losses are mighty. The $400 million in tourism that Indian Wells generates has vanished.
Players, officials and fans are baffled. What to do? More than most sports, tennis is susceptible. It’s international, it has a dizzying array of ruling bodies and tight, intertwined schedules. Questions abound. The WTA has canceled tournaments in Miami, South Carolina, Mexico and beyond. There will be no ATP play until the week of April 27th. The Madrid and Rome Masters are in serious jeopardy. The French Open, which is supposed to start on May 24th, is reeling, its fate in the hands of governmental authorities. France is shutting down.
Can we imagine a tennis season without Wimbledon? Without even the US Open? The Augusta Masters has been postponed. The Kentucky Derby may not get out of the barn. A cycle without the Olympics would be an unimaginable blow. Yes, we know our games are merely passing pleasures. Still, they’re deep in our DNA. Sports are magical. Pros are hard-wired; they train with relentless focus. Each season they circle the world – nomads on a mission. If it’s March, this must be Indian Wells.
Now Planet Tennis is off its orbit. Novak Djokovic’s quip that he could go the whole year undefeated has taken on an odd ring – he might. Last we noticed, he was in LA and not at all sure what to do. Perhaps we shouldn’t say this, but Roger Federer (along with other injured players like Simona Halep and Angie Kerber) will be impacted far less than others.
Dirtmeister Nadal, who all but ingests points and titles during the clay season, cannot be happy. Neither can 36-year-old Kim Clijsters, who’s worked so hard to come back on tour. Serena said she’d isolate herself for six weeks. Let’s hope all this doesn’t trigger retirements of great stars like Venus.
On January 1st, as eager players boarded flights to tourneys in Sydney, Qatar and Shenzhen, a little-known seafood market in the middle of Wuhan, China shut down. Workers were sick. Two days later, as Grigor Dimitrov led his Bulgarian team to a shock ATP Cup upset over Britain, the confirmed cases of a mystery illness jumped to 44. On January 7th, as bushfires raged in Australia, Serena joined with Caroline Wozniacki to reach the Auckland doubles semis and the illness caused by the corona virus was identified and named. They called it COVID-19.
On January 23, Federer played his last match before his knee surgery and the World Health Organization declared a global state of emergency. Now, seven tumultuous weeks later, a National Emergency has been announced in America, travel from Europe has been banned, and our sport staggers.
Ticket takers, security workers, cooks and players hoping for breakthrough wins have lost their jobs. On her sixteenth birthday, Coco Gauff sat sidelined. Coco Vandeweghe asked, “What am I going to do for three months?” Some players were philosophical. “People, use common sense, respect the rules, be patient,” advised the recently retired Tomas Berdych. “The world is taking a break,” mused the wise Canadian 19-year-old, Felix Auger-Aliassime. “I’m obviously disappointed with this forced break, but we must all do our part to protect the most vulnerable people.”
And some were whimsical. “Always look at the bright side of life! See you later!” quipped Belgian Elise Merten. France’s Edouard Roger Vasselin joked, “Los Angeles airport is the new players’ lounge.” Anna Rodionova offered some gallows humor, confiding, “Well, I never liked the clay season anyway.” Tennys Sandgren admitted he was “already bored and out of toilet paper.”
More to the point, many are out of jobs. TV income has plumetted, tournament insurance is scant. Never mind the impact of the virus on little things like rankings. What will its effect be on the entire sport?
In 1994 an infamous Sports Illustrated cover asked, “Is Tennis Dying?” Now people are dying. Our sport will not die; still we are all at a loss. We grieve. We crave the soothing pleasures of normalcy. We would love to delight in a free-form Nick Kyrgios meltdown. Instead, we think of the victims of a devastating, invisible virus. As we take care of ourselves, we pray and support each other. And we hope that better days will again come our way.
Dr. Lynn Ungar suggested, “What if you thought of [this]…as the most sacred of times? Cease from travel. Cease from buying and selling. Give up, just for now…Sing. Pray. Touch only those to whom you commit your life.
“Center down. And when your body has become still, reach out with your heart. Know that we are connected in ways that are terrifying and beautiful…Know that our lives are in one another’s hands. Do not reach out your hands. Reach out your heart. Reach out your words. Reach out all the tendrils of compassion that move…Promise this world your love – for better or for worse…so long as we all shall live.”