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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, May 8, 2020

 
Carlos Silva

" Instead of playing in nine cities you’re going to have three matches on one court in the same day," said WTT CEO Carlos Silva (far right above).

Photo credit: CameraWork USA/WTT

Catastrophic times calls for creative measures.

World TeamTennis is confronting the coronavirus crisis that has shut down sport with a show of unity—and a season of solidarity.

More: Roland Garros to Refund Ticket Holders

WTT announced plans to play its full 2020 season in one site on one court starting July 12th.

Several American stars, including Sloane Stephens, Sam Querrey, Stevie Johnson,  the Bryan brothers and Christina McHale are among the players scheduled to compete in the season, which will feature full playoffs. 

The league, which will follow all CDC and state guidelines to ensure safety, will announce the host city by June 1st.

Under the league's plan, teams would still play the 14-match schedule, it will all be staged on one court without ball kids and linespeople with three team matches per day televised live on CBS, CBS Sports Network or ESPN.

The vision is live tennis morning, noon and night.

In a sport-starved nation where viewers are tuning into The Last Dance, ESPN's Michael Jordan documentary, in playoff volume, a World TeamTennis mid-July return to television could be a boon for both WTT and tennis as a whole. 

WTT hit a milestone last season returning to network television on CBS with a major ratings triumph.

World TeamTennis on CBS debuted on July 21st, 2019 featuring the Philadelphia Freedoms at Vegas Rollers. The telecast delivered 409,000 viewers, making it the most watched match in the league’s 44-year history.

To put the audience number in perspective consider ESPN's coverage of the 2019 Wimbledon averaged 877,000 viewers.

Sources say three areas of the country—Florida, southern California and the Las Vegas area—are under consideration to host this unique one-venue WTT 2020 season.

If local laws prohibit large gatherings, then the league would play its season televised without fans in the stands. If a site permits fans to attend with restrictions, such as staggered seating, the league could consider it.

Site under consideration are in parts of the country re-opening or planning to re-open.

The USTA National Campus outside Orlando, Florida, home of the WTT’s Orlando Storm franchise, is thought to be among the potential hosts sites along with Vegas, home of the Vegas Rollers, and Southern California hosts two franchises: Orange County Breakers, which signed Grigor Dimitrov for his WTT debut, and the San Diego Aviators, led by Ryan Harrison and Christina McHale.

If the season comes off as planned, it could well be the most concentrated level of men’s and women’s pro tennis we’ll see in one place for the rest of 2020—depending of course on how the coronavirus pandemic plays out.

Consolidating the season in one site can help ensure player and staff safety in a controlled environment, the season won’t require any international travel for players or staff, WTT was the first pro league to employ Hawk-Eye line-calling technology so linespeople are not needed for World TeamTennis matches.

Another asset: the league’s abbreviated scoring format gives players, many of whom haven’t played a meaningful match since February, safer re-entry to the sport and the premium placed on doubles and mixed doubles gives fans plenty of net play which today’s power-based baseline game doesn’t always offer.

We caught up with WTT CEO Carlos Silva for an update on the league’s plans for its 45th season.

Tennis Now: Will the World TeamTennis plan to play the season in one site be played with the traditional WTT format?

Carlos Silva: It will be. Right now, we’re slated to start on July 12th. We’re gonna bring all nine teams into one location and they’re going to play the same season that they were going to play if they were in their home cities.

The same seven home and seven away [matches]. And obviously “home and away” are in quotes because everyone’s together in one city. But the plan is to play in one city. Top four teams of the nine make the playoffs, just like last year. And they play the semifinals: one versus four, two versus three in terms of their regular-season wins and losses. And then the top two teams advance to the final.

TN: It’s the same WTT format, would be it be a compressed season?

Carlos Silva: No, it wouldn’t be compressed at all. It’s the same time frame. Instead of playing in nine cities you’re going to have three matches on one court in the same day. As opposed to those three matches possibly happening in three different cities.

We basically have three matches in one day in that one arena. We haven’t finalized it but let’s say for example 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. every day and then we would produce those matches just like we were. And they’d all be live on either CBS, CBS Sports Network or ESPN.



TN: When will you make the final decision on the host site?

Carlos Silva: We don’t quite have to make a decision yet, but between May 15th and June 1st, we will. So it will really depend on where the state is at that time.

So we’re securing all the venues in each of a number of locations in each state. Then based on where the governor is in that state, we’ll make the final decision.

TN: So it sounds like you have a Plan B, Plan C in place and can adjust?

Carlos Silva: Plan D, Plan E, Plan F. Yes, we do.

TN: I was watching the pro event from Germany on Tennis Channel last weekend. There were no fans, no ball kids, player benches on opposite sides of the court. What sort of social distancing safety measures will we see in World TeamTennis?

Carlos Silva: You know we use Hawk-Eye all the time. We just have one chair umpire, no linespeople, no ball kids.

We’re also assuming we’re gonna have to do this with no fans. Again, that will be based on what the state tells us.

TN: Obviously, coronavirus has shut down sport and presents some serious obstacles in restarting. What are tennis’ assets when it comes to eventually resuming play in a post-coronavirus era? Do you think tennis will be ready to make a comeback and adjust to life with the virus?

Carlos Silva: I think World TeamTennis is [prepared]. We’re all in one nation. We’re all in the United States. All the players can be here. Certainly in the case of this year doing it in one city I think there’s a big advantage.

We can pull it off. We don’t need 30 courts to play off our season. We just need one court because a team match happens on one court. Five sets: men’s singles, men’s doubles, women’s singles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles. So we think it’s ideally suited.

And because we’ve used technology like Hawk-Eye for a long time and led the way, we don’t have to deal with having another 10 people on the court to call lines.

TN: What’s player response been to this plan?

Carlos Silva: When you look at the players—Bryan Brothers, Sam Querrey, Mardy Fish, Stevie Johnson, Sloane Stephens and so many more—it was quite a line-up before all this happened. I can tell you, Richard, our email and phones are ringing. More players want to play having seen our statement on Monday to play on July 12th.

We’ve got great partners in CBS and ESPN and both of them are very supportive. We’re working through the schedules with them. They’re super-excited to have live tennis—live sports—on the network. 

 

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