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Home   News   Tebbutt: Uncertain times in tennis

Tebbutt: Uncertain times in tennis

Mar 10, 2020
written by: Tom Tebbutt
written by: Tom Tebbutt

The shock of the cancellation of the 2020 BNP Paribas Open had a lot to do with the timing, with the news coming just 12 hours before the first balls were to be hit in Monday’s qualifying events in Indian Wells. It all happened when it seemed the event was going full-steam ahead and that any coronavirus concerns had finally been forgotten.

It’s important to remember it was not BNP Paribas Open officials who cancelled the event because of the coronavirus, it was essentially The Riverside County Public Health Department declaring a public health emergency for the Coachella Valley area.

Virtually all the players were already in the Coachella Valley (main freeway highway 10 above) with Palm Springs as its anchor city and a scattering of other communities, including Indian Wells.

The players will be able to stay and practice at the tournament site – known variously as tennis ‘Paradise’ and/or the ‘Indian Wells Tennis Garden’ – until next Monday. They can practice while also remaining in their paid hotels.

Then they will, theoretically, head to Miami where the second half of the so-called ‘Sunshine Double’ begins in 13 days on March 23rd. But with the Ultra Music festival, scheduled to run from March 20-22 in Miami, already canceled because the Florida governor has declared a public health emergency, the tennis tournament seems to be in a very tenuous position.

The fact that the Coachella Valley went from one case of the coronavirus on Sunday to six on Monday just shows how fluid these situations can be and how difficult it will be for a city like Miami to avoid proliferation of what is now being referred to as a pandemic.

It’s easy to get carried away and think of ways to compensate for losing a Masters 1000 (ATP) and Premier Mandatory (WTA) event like the BNP Paribas Open. This may seem far-fetched, but if the Miami Open (also a Masters 1000 and Premier Mandatory) goes ahead, it could the possibly award double the ranking points – being as it is also a hard-court event in the U.S. in the month of March – to make up for the points players were denied because Indian Wells was cancelled.

But that could be impractical if some of the following events in Europe on clay are also cancelled – doubling ranking points cannot be a continuous process to try to rectify lost opportunities for the players.

As for re-scheduling Indian Wells, there’s no possibility until the fall after the US Open because the Coachella Valley/Palm Springs area is hellishly hot in the summer – with permanent residents usually trying to go outside only in the early morning before the blistering sun rises overhead.

As for the fall, it would also be an unlikely time because there are tournaments in Europe and Asia – and also the BNP Paribas Open is a two-week event and not easy to slot into an already crowded calendar. Another consideration, for players entered in European or Asian events, would be that the flights to California from Asia or Europe are not just the seven or eight hours to New York or other cities on the eastern seaboard. They’re more like 12 hours. At a possible date in November, for example, that’s just too long of a trip, especially with the annual grueling jaunt to Australia just a matter of weeks away.

So the 2020 BNP Paribas Open will go into the books as the tournament equivalent of the DNP (did not play) that sometimes appears beside an athlete’s name on game accounts in other sports.

One final idea in case tournaments have to make adjustments for the coronavirus and are contemplating playing in empty stadiums. Maybe about one tenth of the tickets could be sold and spectators be spaced well apart in seats to avoid any chance of contagion. That way at least there would be fans in the stands to react and cheer and add some atmosphere to the matches.

The effect of the cancelling of the BNP Paribas Open on the top Canadian players, if indeed all the points from the 2019 tournament are wiped off the rankings which occurs every Monday at the end of the 52-week cycle, will vary.

Milos Raonic (above practicing with Gilles Simon in Indian Wells in 2018) in many ways could be the hardest hit. The BNP Paribas Open has been his best Masters 1000 event by far. His record there is 23-8. The most matches he has won at any of the other eight Masters 1000s is just 14.

He reached the semi-finals in the California desert a year ago – beaten 7-6(3), 6-7(3), 6-4 by eventual champion Dominic Thiem (see at top). Raonic loses 360 points and that will drop him to about the mid-40s – his lowest ranking since Valentine’s Day (February 14) in 2011.

A year ago in Miami, Raonic advanced to the third round (45 points) with a bye and a walkover (Maximillian Marterer) before losing 6-4, 6-4 to Kyle Edmund, a match when he was treated for a lower back/hip issue in the second set.

Photo: Mauricio Paiz

It seems like Bianca Andreescu, who had her big breakthrough by winning Indian Wells a year ago, would be a big loser because she is unable to defend her 1000 points as the 2019 champion (see at top). But Andreescu was not going to play – her left knee is still not quite 100 per cent – so, while she loses her points and drops from no. 6 to about no. 11, no one else can really improve their rankings that much this year because there’s no tournament.

After the 120 points she received for reaching the fourth round (retiring against Anett Kontaveit) in Miami, Andreescu only has the 70 points for making the second round at Roland Garros (before withdrawing with her shoulder injury) between March and the Rogers Cup in August. That’s four months of clay-court events and the complete grass-court season with virtually no points to defend. If she’s healthy, and if the tournaments are indeed played, she has an opportunity to significantly rebuild her ranking.

Photo: Mauricio Paiz

Denis Shapovalov reached the fourth round in Indian Wells a year ago before losing 7-6(3), 2-6, 6-3 to Hubert Hurkacz. That was worth 90 points but his big haul was 360 points at his next event in Miami where he made the semi-finals before losing 6-2, 6-4 to Roger Federer. Shapovalov will likely stay at his current no. 16 spot despite no result from Indian Wells but Miami could be more problematic. An early loss or no result at all if the tournament is cancelled, and he would lose 360 points and fall to about no. 23.

Félix Auger-Aliassime is in much the same position as Shapovalov. Last year at Indian Wells, he defeated Cameron Norrie before upsetting Stefanos Tsitsipas and then losing 6-7(2), 6-4, 7-6(5) to Yoshihito Nishioka, earning 45 points. He should stay at his current no. 20, or drop one spot, with no result from this year’s event.

Like Shapovalov, he was a semi-finalist at the 2019 Miami Open before being beaten 7-6(3), 7-6(4) by runner-up John Isner. A qualifier in Miami, Auger-Aliassime has 375 points to defend and could fall to about no. 28 if he lost early or if there was no tournament.

Photo: WTATV.com

Leylah Annie Fernandez has to be disappointed after losing a chance to play her first WTA Premier Mandatory event main draw in Indian Wells. Given a Wild Card, the 17-year-old had a chance to improve a ranking that currently stands at no. 118 after starting the 2020 season at no. 209. Fernandez (above talking to coach Romain Deridder of France) reached the final in Acapulco two weeks ago before losing 6-4, 6-7(8), 6-1 to (No. 7) Heather Watson and the quarter-finals last week in Monterrey, being beaten 6-4, 7-5 by (No. 1) Elina Svitolina.

It will be interesting to see if Fernandez, who moved from Montreal with her sister Bianca and parents Irene and Jorge to Boynton Beach, Florida, a year and a half ago, is given a Wild Card for the Miami Open. It’s only about 50 miles from their home to Miami, so it would be a convenient tournament for the Fernandez family and friends.

ONE CANADIAN STRIKING TENNIS BALLS

Lance Stroll is in Melbourne for the Formula One race and took advantage of the opportunity to hit some balls with two-time Grand Slam champion Lleyton Hewitt. The 21-year-old driver from Montreal displayed some pretty good form.

THIS BUD’S FOR YOU

At a sad moment in the history of the Indian Wells tournament – here’s an amusing vignette from another time. In 1993, this reporter covered the tournament, then known as the Newsweek Champions Cup, and somehow managed to have his media accreditation badge picture taken holding a can of Budweiser.

(Feature image: Richard Osborn)