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Extreme conditions, and the COVID-19 pandemic must be clearly considered one of them, requires extreme measures and a paradigm shift. But this time Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal and partially Roger Federer, who announced the shutdown of his season until 2021, didn’t live up with the expectations.
— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) June 10, 2020
Djokovic and Nadal expressed their personal concerns over the safety measures assessed by the U.S. Open organisers for the tournament meant to become the second Grand Slam event of the season.
The world number one said hosting the tournament would be impossible due to “extreme” protocols. He complained athletes would not have access to Manhattan, would have to sleep in hotels at the airport, and to be tested twice or three times per week.
Also, he was quoted by AFP as telling Prva TV that bringing a one-person staff can be a problem because tennis players now need a coach, a fitness trainer, and a physiotherapist.
At the same time, he created his own series of exhibition tournaments, the Adria Tour featuring world number three Dominic Thiem and world number seven Alexander Zverev, to raise funds for charitable causes.
In an online video call, Nadal told the press he’s not eager to go play a tennis tournament in New York, where a large share of U.S. cases of coronavirus has been registered.
But prudence looks somewhat a self-centred position. The Brit No.1 Daniel Evans explained it clearly. Most players travels with just one coach, he told BBC 5 Live.
“This is the point where I think the players should really come together and Novak and Rafa should really be looking to help those players with lower ranks so they get a good pay day”.
No Grand Slams means no national tennis
The COVID-19 pandemic made it clear that professional sports require long-term policies and perspectives. Top athletes, or top teams, look to their incentives to win, often think as win-maximisers in a short-term future. Tennis stands out as an almost unique case, as the top players are hugely involved in defining the rules or the schedules of the tour.
But their involvement, their deep experience of their own world should be enough to change their way of thinking, not only because the ATP is primarily an association of tennis professionals. But because no U.S.Open, no Roland Garros means no American tennis, no French tennis. The seismic nature of the threat lies in these worrying numbers.
In Great Britain, the Wimbledon Championships represent 90% of the distributable surplus of the LTA. More than 60% of the British federation’s revenues derived from the agreement with the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC).
The LTA can count on a total equity of £175.8m and cash reserves of £14.9m. Besides, pandemic insurance will temper the financial impact of Wimbledon’s cancellation.
The U.S. Open accounts for more than 80 percent of the United States Tennis Association ‘s revenue.
As reported by the New York Times, the organisation has a nearly $500 million budget including $200 million for employee salaries, tennis development programs, debt payments, and other fixed costs. Losing the 2020 U.S. Open would require finding new agreements with sponsors and media partners to protect the cash flow. Such a move could impact the growth of the game at the junior and youth levels at least for a decade.
The French Federation (FFT) could find itself in a more dramatic turmoil without the Roland Garros. The general treasurer Hughes Cavallin revealed that the French Open earned 261 million euros in 2019, and the FFT registered a total turnover of 325 million euros. As reported by Carole Bouchard for Tennis Majors,
“The national tennis system needs a little more than 100 million euros to work properly. Those costs cover the National Technical Direction, help for the regions, the clubs, the leagues, the national tournaments and team events, grants for the youth. But, the federation’s activities only earn 32 million euros. Roland Garros alone fills the gap of 71 million euros. Without the tournament, French tennis could not survive”.
Numbers don’t lie. It’s time for the top players to make the difference.