'World of Tennis Post COVID-19 Pandemic' by Abhijeet Dangat, Project Manager – AMOS Lab
Currently, it feels as if the entire world has paused. The coronavirus disease 2019 also known as COVID-19 has disrupted normal life, and the entire world is severely affected. The world of tennis is no exception to this.
Until the beginning of last month, things did not seem so bad. And then all of a sudden, the whole world changed. In tennis, it all began with the cancellation of the Indian Wells tournament. A few days later, followed with cancellation of all clay court and grass court tournaments until July 2020, including Wimbledon which has been canceled for the first time since World War II in 1945. That’s when it hit me, and I started wondering how tennis will be played once this pandemic storm is over.
As it stands, the world economy is about to go into disarray. Most economists believe that there will be a severe recession and a loss of purchasing power for a couple of years – some of which will impact buying of tickets, paying subscription fees for streaming services and international travel - which is vital to the tennis world, as it has achieved truly global proportions. Both ATP and WTA tours are played across six continents with professional players at various levels from every country on this planet. The World Tourism Organization, a United Nations specialized agency (UNWTO) stated that, COVID-19 may cost tourism 7 years of growth! That's 7 years of lost jobs and lost opportunities – many of which will affect all sports.
Many people from the tennis community on Twitter believe that season 2020 is over. Be it accommodating players or producing TV content; it all requires a gathering of people. And unless there is a vaccine available, people will be not be enthusiastic to do any on-site work.
Let’s say things improve in coming weeks and then in the immediate future, the tennis tournament organisers will follow guidelines by national and local governments, scientists and doctors to manage players and fans’ travel and (limited) movements at the venue. Politics will play a huge part in post pandemic world. Travel restrictions from various countries and visa issuance will directly affect whether a tournament should be played or not. This is bad news for players from countries with weaker passports. I am also afraid to see a rise in racism and xenophobia targeted at Asian players, especially from China.
Tournament organisers will establish on-site testing labs, quarantine zones, and new social norms such as no handshakes at the net. In Europe, especially in countries like France, kissing is a common way to greet people. These greetings will officially be forbidden at the venues for these difficult times.
There is a good chance no fans will be entertained at tennis tournaments for months to come. The next edition of the Australian Open is 9 months away, but Tennis Australia has already started planning for a possible situation where the tournament will be played without fans.
I think tennis authorities will further establish new rules for a post pandemic tennis world. One of the new rules will most likely reduce the playing time, especially this season, as they have a lot of catching up to do. And if they decide on reducing playing time, I believe this is the best time to experiment with short sets. Speeding up matches will work well to complete many tournaments faster, and also to attract a new and younger generation to tennis.
Some of the popular shorter tennis formats include Fast4 Tennis initiated by Tennis Australia and Tie Break Tens. Thirty30 Tennis, also known as T30 Tennis is also getting popular. More than 250+ players and coaches have expressed their support for T30 Tennis in testimonials (as seen at https://www.thirty30tennis.com/testimonials). Thirty30 tennis starts every game at 30-all. It sounds and feels like regular tennis with sets still going to 6 games. There is no final set tie-break in this format, hence in a situation where it a close match, it will go on until the better player wins.
It is a perfect time for tennis authorities to think about this seriously and give all formats a fair chance to be experimented with. The world will be a very different place once this pandemic is over, as it shall be. And for those rooting for shorter formats of tennis to be played, they will succeed. A small victory, even though it is of less importance in the grand scheme of things.