The path continues to get bumpier for the professional tennis tours as they attempt to salvage seasons disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
For now, both the ATP Tour and the WTA are set to resume play in August: the men in Washington, D.C.; the women in Palermo, Italy.
But last week came news that, for now, the European Union would deny entry to travelers from certain countries, including the United States and Russia. It is unclear whether athletes will be exempt, and there are still concerns about the possibility of mandatory quarantines.
Then on Thursday, The Associated Press reported that China’s General Administration of Sport said the country would not host any international sports events for the remainder of 2020.
If that does indeed happen, it would be a significant blow to the men’s tour, which has tournaments scheduled in Beijing and in Shanghai. But it would be a much bigger blow to the women’s tour, which has made China one of its focal points and has seven events provisionally scheduled there in October and November.
Those include the Wuhan Open, a potentially symbolic event for the city that was hit first by the coronavirus, and above all the WTA Finals, the year-end championships in Shenzhen, which provide the tour with the bulk of its revenue and award $14 million in prize money.
“There haven’t been any final decisions,” Steve Simon, the chief executive of the WTA Tour, said of the Chinese government in an interview on Thursday.
Simon said his understanding was that the report from the sports administration was a recommendation, not a ruling. He said the WTA was still engaged in dialogue with the Chinese Tennis Association and government officials.
“It’s obviously something that ultimately the central government will utilize to make decisions,” Simon said. “There’s still a conversation being held and an evaluation being done within the region.”
With its China swing in peril, Simon said the tour was considering staging tournaments in other locations late in the season. But he said the chances of moving the WTA Finals elsewhere on short notice were “remote.”
The WTA has no pandemic insurance for the event, but Simon said the tour would survive a cancellation. “The hole that we have will certainly be bigger and deeper,” he said. “But we do have plans in place that will allow us to come out of it and be OK. It will be a challenge, but we will be able to continue.”
Resuming play remains the objective for 2020. But it has become increasingly clear that if there is a restart, the tours will be even further from business as usual than expected.
Many events, including the United States Open, have long planned to go ahead without spectators. But travel restrictions and recent adjustments to the tours’ ranking systems could result in unequal access for players and significantly weaker fields for events like the U.S. Open, which is scheduled for Aug. 31 to Sept. 13 in New York.
Chris Widmaier, a spokesman for the United States Tennis Association, said U.S.T.A. officials were working with the federal government to clarify the rules on quarantines and access for athletes and their teams when they enter the country.
He said the U.S.T.A. was also working with the tours, the French Tennis Federation and other entities to ensure that players would be able to travel freely to Europe after the U.S. Open.
There are major clay-court events in Madrid and Rome in the two weeks immediately after the U.S. Open. The French Open, the final Grand Slam event of 2020, is scheduled from Sept. 27 to Oct. 11. The concern is that players might simply choose to stay in Europe rather than travel to New York. Rafael Nadal, the reigning U.S. Open men’s singles champion, already has committed to Madrid but not yet to the Open.
“We are trying to cast as broad a net as possible,” Widmaier said. “We have also been in discussions with the United States Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee and talked to different ambassadors over in Europe. We are also working with a couple of different immigration specialists who have a much more detailed understanding of the rapidly changing travel requirements as it relates to travel to Europe.”
Roger Federer, the Swiss star who is out for the season because of knee surgery, said this week that he had spoken with the U.S.T.A. and been told that a decision on holding the U.S. Open would be made by the end of July. But Widmaier said there “was no specific date that we will make a determination on moving forward.”
“Our goal is to conduct the U.S. Open in its scheduled date; that has always been our goal and continues to be,” he said.
If immigration concerns can be resolved, logistical issues would still remain for the Open and the tours.
“Even if you release travel restrictions, you still have the availability of flights and getting the airlines back up to levels that allow you to travel,” Simon said.
Concern about player access is one of the big reasons the WTA has approved a plan for an adjusted ranking system similar to the ATP’s. It will extend the traditional 52-week rolling system to nearly two years, eliminate mandatory events and allow each player to use the better result from 2019 or 2020 at a given event.
That means if Serena Williams were to lose in the first round of the 2020 U.S. Open, she would still be able to count her points from reaching the 2019 final toward her current ranking as one of her top 16 singles results.
“I think the players have really embraced it,” Simon said. “And they’ve seen this as, How do you create fairness in an imperfect and unfair situation?”