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By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Foro Italico

Tennis could be poised for a comeback this year, though the sport will look dramatically different on resumption, says Italian Federation President.

Photo Source: AP.

Social distancing rules unique tennis could save the 2020 season.

Tennis’ non-contact nature makes it “the safest sport”—and poised for a quicker comeback from coronavirus quarantine—though there will be significant changes if the game resumes, says Italian Tennis Federation president Angelo Binaghi.

Tennis Express

The coronavirus crisis has shut down sport.

COVID-19 erased the European clay-court season and cut down grass-court season marking Wimbledon’s first cancellation in 75 years.

The ATP and WTA jointly announced the continued suspension of both Tours until at least July 13th.

Still, tennis offers inherent safe space other sports lack.

The 78-foot-long court, two different benches for players on changeovers, locker-room separation are all tools tennis can use to help ensure safety for players, Binaghi told Gaia Piccardi in an interview published on the FIT website. “We are the safest sport from a health point of view: they cannot treat us as team, contact or indoor disciplines,” Binaghi said. “I would like that, in reopening the basic sport, those who govern us understand it: closed changing rooms, benches on opposite sides, gel at every change of field.

“Tennis can and must start again as soon as possible: a week's notice is enough for us.”

Both NBA and MLB executives have reportedly discussed resuming their seasons under controlled conditions at neutral sites to minimize player travel and maximize safety.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a leading advisor on the White House coronavirus task force, detailed protocol for eventually resuming American sport.

“There’s a way of doing that,” Dr. Fauci told Snapchat’s Peter Hamby at the 2:55 mark of the video below. “Nobody comes to the stadium. Put [athletes] in big hotels, wherever you want to play.

“Keep them very well surveilled ... and have them tested like every week and make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family and just let them play the season out.”

If tennis resumes later this summer as scheduled, the sport will look dramatically different, the FIT chief says.

While there’s speculation the pro circuit could eventually resume without fans in the stands, Binaghi forecasts a future with fans wearing masks and carrying hand sanitizer, players picking up their own balls and towels as tournaments forgo ball kids and player entourages reduced to coach only.

“We will have to be flexible and innovative because for one or two years nothing will be the same,” Binaghi said. “The players will collect balls and towels and will not be able to carry the clan with them: they will return to the years of Pietrangeli, athlete and coach.

“The public will come in and out ordered in rows, will sit apart, masks and disinfectant gel for everyone. It will be a quality system and I would like tennis to be awarded for its unique characteristics.”

Given the fact there is no vaccine for coronavirus, ventilators are in short supply and that some nations have imposed travel bans and others severely restricted international travel, skeptics say it’s senseless to attempt to resume the season until increased COVID-19 testing can help ensure the safety of players and tournament staff.

Still, tournament owners are targeting a late-summer revival.

Roland Garros made a unilateral move from its scheduled May start to September 20th—one week after the US Open ends on September 13th.

The USTA announced as of now it plans to stage the hard-court Grand Slam as scheduled starting on August 31st.

The FIT is aiming to stage the Internazionali d’Italia on the red clay of Rome “between September and October” Binaghi said.

If that plan proves untenable, Binaghi says the FIT would shift the traditional Rome clay-court tournament to a fast indoor event with ATP and WTA tournaments staged in Milan and Turin without fans if necessary. Northern Italy was hard-hit by death and infection due to the coronavirus.

“In Cagliari in November, in Milan on the fast track in December, maybe women and men divided between Milan and Turin, with single-place finals, in a beautiful union between cities hard hit by the virus,” Binaghi said. “In order to be international, I also accept closed doors.”

Additionally, the FIT has offered to host the season-ending ATP Finals, set to conclude a 12-year run at London’s O2 Arena November 15-22nd.

The ATP Finals are set to debut in Turin, Italy in November, 2021, though Binaghi said “we’ll take the opportunity” to host the event if it can’t be staged at the O2.


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