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Tennis French Open 2019
Image: Getty Images/AFP/T. Samson

Professional tennis facing crucial coronavirus test

Marko Langer
March 26, 2020

The ATP and WTA are among the organizations that have interrupted their seasons due to the coronavirus. Yet amid gestures of solidarity, the French Tennis Federation has gone its own way, much to the irritation of many.


It has long been an open secret that not everybody in the world of professional tennis is best friends with one another. But now, in a world subdued by the coronavirus, open conflicts are breaking out.

The French Tennis Federation (FFT) didn't make any friends when it recently surprised everybody, not by announcing plans that it was delaying the French Open – but by simply moving it to late September.

This left everyone else gazing wide-eyed into their computer screens. The French Open, on clay, starting a week after the US Open – on hard courts?

Even several days after the announcement was made, the head of German women's tennis, Barbara Rittner, was still trying to contain herself.

"Personally, I don't think the tournament will take place at the time now being considered," she told the Eurosport podcast Extra Time. "This would also be the wrong signal, because such a solo effort must not be rewarded.

Tennis-Bundestrainerin Barbara Rittner
Head of German women's tennis Barbara RittnerImage: Picture alliance/dpa/D. Karmann

"It looks like they looked for the latest possible opening on the calendar and plonked it down there. This is completely selfish and without any foundation. I strongly condemn it. The people in charge there haven't done themselves any favors," she said.  

"From a physical point of view, it would be almost impossible for the players to play the US Open on hard courts and then fly to Europe within a week and train on clay. It's a huge adjustment for the body," she concluded.


That's not to mention the fact that nobody even knows whether either New York or Paris will have recovered from the pandemic and be back to normal by September.

Rittner is by no means alone in her criticism of the French decision. The governing bodies of the professional men's game (ATP) and the women's game (WTA), along with many players, have expressed their disapproval.  

"Excusez-moi???" wrote Naomi Osaka, winner of the 2018 Australian Open and 2019 US Open on Twitter. 

"This is sick," Canada's Vasek Pospisil, a member of the ATP Players' Council told the New York Times. He went on to describe the French decision as "selfish," a "powerplay" and "quite arrogant."

The US Tennis Association has not ruled out postponing the US Open, but it stressed that it would never take such a decision without consulting the organizers of the other Grand Slam tournaments, the WTA and ATP, the ITF, and its other partners.

The ATP and WTA had moved quickly to announce that they were suspending play due to the outbreak of the coronavirus and now both have extended their stoppages until June 7. The organizers of Wimbledon, which is scheduled to start on June 29 in London, are expected to make an announcement next week.

Only Nadal consulted? 

Then there is the Laver Cup. As the tournament proudly announced in late February, Roger Federer will be among the players to participate in the fourth edition of the tournament, scheduled to be held at Boston's TD Garden in late September.

While it doesn't count in terms of points in the world rankings, the event, pitting a European team against the rest of the world, seems to have been one that the participants have embraced.

Tennis | Davis Cup
Spain's Rafael Nadal was allegedly the only pro who was consulted.Image: Getty Images/C. Brunskill

The organizers of Roland Garros, who really need the French Open revenue due to the huge investment they have made in the Bois de Boulogne facility, are reported to have only informed 12-time winner Rafael Nadal before going public with their decision. 

Federer was one of the most prominent players to have been kept out of the loop. His agency reacted by stating that the French decision "raises many questions". 

Livelihoods lost 

Nobody needs to shed any tears for superstars like Nadal and Federer but, for players who sit much lower in the top 100, the cancelation of professional tournaments could be career-threatening.

"Just like everywhere else these days, livelihoods are falling apart," Jan Lennard Struff, a German who is ranked No.34 on the men's side, told broadcaster Sky.

Angelique Kerber, Germany's top-ranked women's player (21st in the world), expressed things from a different perspective. 

"I too have grandparents who I am super worried about and who belong to one of the groups at risk," the 32-year-old said on Instagram. 

Just like everyone else, she is stuck at home and doesn't know where things will be going in the next few weeks.

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