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Tennis bosses fume over French Open's coronavirus excuse for autumn shift

Rafael Nadal won his 12th French Open singles title in June 2019 after beating Dominic Thiem in the final. The 2020 event has been moved from spring to autumn.
Rafael Nadal won his 12th French Open singles title in June 2019 after beating Dominic Thiem in the final. The 2020 event has been moved from spring to autumn. AFP/File

Tennis chiefs in France came under fire on Thursday over their unilateral decision to move the French Open from its traditional two week springtime slot to the autumn due to the coronavirus.

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The second of the tour’s Grand Slam tournaments normally comes at the end of the clay court season in Europe.

However those competitions in Estoril, Lyon, Monaco, Madrid and Rome have been cancelled as part of the lockdown to stop the spread of the virus that has claimed more than 8,000 lives worldwide.

Organisers of the French Open, which offers big cash prizes and ranking points after each round, responded to the tighter restrictions on movement in France by announcing a shift to 20 September, a week after the end of the fourth Grand Slam at the US Open in New York.

That shunt effectively squashes the hopes of scheduled autumn tournaments in China and Japan to attract top players.

Fury

It also brought a rebuke from the International Tennis Federation - the outfit which helps to organise the other three Grand Slam events in Melbourne, London and New York - as well as the ATP and WTA which run the men’s and women’s tours respectively.

"All decisions related to the impact of the coronavirus require appropriate consultation and review with the stakeholders in the game, a view that is shared by ATP, WTA, International Tennis Federation, All England Lawn Tennis Club, Tennis Australia, and United States Tennis Association,” said a joint statement.

It added: “The challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic to professional tennis demand greater collaboration than ever from everyone in the tennis community in order for the sport to move forward collectively in the best interest of players, tournaments and fans.”

Surprise

A flare-up appeared inevitable after organisers of the Laver Cup said they had no plans to call off the men’s team event in Boston between 25 and 27 September.

“This announcement came as a surprise to us and our partners – Tennis Australia, the USTA and the ATP. It raises many questions.

“We want our fans, sponsors, broadcasters, staff, volunteers and players to know that we intend to hold Laver Cup 2020 as currently scheduled.”

Sired by the Swiss 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer as a homage to the legendary Australian player Rod Laver, the event pits other top players from Europe such as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic against those from the rest of the world.

Stakes

Europe, since the inception of the competition in 2017, has been skippered by Bjorn Borg. Their opponents by the Swede’s former nemesis John McEnroe.

Even though there are no ranking points for the players, the format, line-ups and matches have created another enthralling layer to the circuit.

However the nascent squabbles between tournament chiefs over who boasts the biggest baubles may prove academic. The entire season may be lost due to the coronavirus.

The joint statement added: “We are assessing all options related to preserving and maximising the tennis calendar based on various return dates for the tours, which remains an unknown at this time.”

 

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