The main Board of the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) and the Committee of Management of The Championships made the inevitable decision on Wednesday to cancel Wimbledon for the first time since the second World War as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic wreaks more havoc on the sporting calendar. Considered the oldest Grand Slam and a cultural institution in Britain, the cancellation of the only grass court major leaves the tennis season in a mess, with no professional tennis scheduled to be played until mid-July.
Wimbledon was scheduled to run for two weeks from June 29, with Novak Djokovic and Simona Halep set to defend their singles titles. The cancellation follows the controversial postponement of the French Open, which was due to begin in May but has been rescheduled to 20 September - 4 October.
“Devastated,” tweeted eight-time champion Roger Federer. While Serena Williams, a seven-time Wimbledon singles champion tweeted ‘I’m shooked’ in response to the news and its wider implications.
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Halep, the defending champion tweeted her disappointment, but laced it with pragamatism and an acknowledgement of the challenges the world is going through right now.. "So sad to hear @Wimbledon won't take place this year," she said. "Last year's final will forever be one of the happiest days of my life! But we are going through something bigger than tennis and Wimbledon will be back! And it means I have even longer to look forward to defending my title."
Wimbledon became the first Grand Slam to cancel their tournament this year, a decision, Ian Hewitt, chairman of the AELTC said ‘has not been taken lightly’. “We have done so [taken this decision to cancel the event] with the highest regard for public health and the wellbeing of all those who come together to make Wimbledon happen," Hewitt said.
In uncertain times like these, the sports have rightfully receded during the outbreak and a heavy realisation that there will be no Wimbledon this year and this decision could have repercussions in the record books.
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Wimbledon’s cancellation will have a ripple effect that extends beyond the top echelons of the sport. While simple record book events like Novak Djokovic hauling up Federer and Rafael Nadal’s Grand Slam totals will have to wait, the monetary losses from cancellation have yet to unfold.
The tournament organisers have -- quite fortuitously -- been covered under insurance policies that protect them from cancellations like this. The insurance will help cover refunds for tickets, broadcast partners and sponsors to a tune of an estimated £200m. Seeing as the LTA’s finances have tens of millions of pounds in their reserves, the chances of irreparable damage to its foundations looks quite low. But such is the complexity of any claim that it could take weeks to work out how much support All England Club will be able to give the sport at the grassroot level. Insiders insist that not much will be affected and they will continue to back British tennis.
The biggest blow for British tennis though is the loss from broadcasting and a chance to put the focus on the sport on their shores. No Queen's, Eastbourne or Wimbledon means no prime time television exposure for the sport, and even if courts are opened in that period, participation is expected to suffer in the months of June and July.
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Despite Wimbledon’s cancellation, and a reality check on the troubles of managing and organising large scale events this year, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) said it does not plan to cancel or reschedule its tournament, scheduled from August 31 to September 13. The US Open remains the only Grand Slam never to be cancelled in the history of tennis. If it does go to schedule, then it faces another major roadblock in the form of the French Open who open their doors, one week after the US Open men’s final.
“We understand the unique circumstances facing the All England Lawn and Tennis Club and the reasoning behind the decision to cancel the 2020 Wimbledon Championships," USTA said in a statement posted to the U.S. Open’s website. "At this time, the USTA still plans to host the US Open as scheduled, and we continue to hone plans to stage the tournament.”
"The USTA is carefully monitoring the rapidly-changing environment surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, and is preparing for all contingencies."
However, it is highly unrealistic to think the USTA can begin preparations to host a Grand Slam, considering the spread of Covid-19 in New York City. The city has reported over 80,000 cases and there seems to be no sign of the pandemic slowing down there. Even if the USTA try to hold the tournament without fans, there are still plenty of staff and players from all around the world who would be present at the venue. Furthermore, with most countries having closed their borders and flights in and out of New York running on unreliable schedules it could be months before normalcy returns to the tennis world.
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