Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Tennis cannot end its gentle bubble

PARIS – The Paris shutdown is over. During the day, the streets of the French capital are alive for everyone to enjoy once again – except the world’s best tennis players.

They get one hour a day.

For many professional athletes, especially those in countries where vaccine delivery is moving fast, life is beginning to return to a shiny normality. Tennis players at the French Open, however, continue to exist in a state of high pandemic alarm, forced to switch mostly between designated hotels and venues for competition or practice as the world leaps back to life around them.

“It’s not the best situation,” said Rafael Nadal, the 13-time winner of the Grand Slam tournament, the other day.

Nadal wants to go out to dinner. He wants to enjoy a normal life. “It’s not possible today,” he said. “We’m just waiting for it.”

The situation remains somewhat uncertain. On Wednesday night, the tournament organizers announced that two men’s doubles players had tested positive and had been removed from the tournament.

During the French Open, players are allowed to be anywhere other than their hotels, Roland Garros, where the tournament takes place, or a practice complex, but only for the 60 minutes agreed by government and tournament officials as a condition of holding the tournament. . After months of strict restrictions on their movements, some players said that even that lack of freedom felt like a gift.

“I know, for some people, an hour outside may seem like a small detail, but at least for me, it just means a lot to go out and get away from it,” said Coco Gauff, the growing American teenager who has spent the most of the last three months on the road and played seven tournaments since the Australian Open.

The pandemic has created major obstacles for any professional sport. But because tennis players and tours change city and country and sometimes continents every week, the sport has been particularly vulnerable.

When sports jumped back to life last summer, the big concern was figuring out how to keep athletes from getting infected and then putting a team on the field or forcing an entire tournament, maybe even a league, to close. Now the focus is on preventing players traveling around the world from infecting communities. As officials continue to tighten or even close boundaries, sports organizers have often had to accept a strict set of conditions to be allowed for tournaments to take place. These conditions often include severe restrictions on the player’s movement.

“This is about finding a balance between allowing athletes in these places to compete and not disturbing current environments,” said Steve Simon, CEO of WTA, the women’s professional tour.

The men’s tour recently began offering antigen testing every other day and began allowing players who tested negative to leave their hotels for limited activities, including exercise, dining and shopping. But that can only happen if local officials agree.

For the players, the routine gets old. Alexander Zverev from Germany, seed No. 6 at the French Open, said in the spring that he had reached a breaking point at a tournament in Rotterdam earlier this year, “freaking out”, while being confined to his hotel and the empty arena with rings access to fresh air.

Daniil Medvedev from Russia, who finished second at the French Open, said he had found life on the road confusing these days.

When he visited Moscow, everything was open and he was free to go to nightclubs and restaurants. When the trip moved to Florida for the Miami Open, spring break was in full swing, but players were limited to their hotels. Stefanos Tsitsipas from Greece was fined $ 7,500 for visiting a Whole Foods. Now the trip is in Europe, and each city has different guidelines, some of which are almost closed down during periods of the day.

“It’s controversial,” Medvedev said. “Depends on what you believe in, depends on what you think of all this, depends on what you see.”

It is not clear when all this will end. In Australia, where the sport is set to start its Grand Slam season in 2022 with the Australian Open in January, Melbourne went back into a lockdown last week. Tennis officials are already trying to negotiate a plan to hold the tournament without forcing players to a two-week quarantine that everyone arriving in the country must still abide by.

Craig Tiley, CEO of Tennis Australia, said officials “worked on multiple scenarios.” He dismissed speculation that the tournament should be moved offshore because the Australian government has not said when the two-week quarantine for international visitors will end. Currently, Tiley has been hoping for significant increases in vaccinations in the coming months to ease local concerns over tennis, bringing coronavirus cases to Australia, which have virtually eradicated infections by isolating themselves.

After the French Open, trips switch to turf season and Wimbledon, which were canceled last year. London, which has endured months of lockdowns, is starting to move towards normality since a dramatic drop in infection rates that followed Britain’s vaccination program. Pub and restaurant life is expected to return significantly when Wimbledon begins on 28 June.

Once again, tennis players will largely be monastery in their hotel rooms, and it is even forbidden to rent private homes near the All England Club, as many of them usually do. Even Andy Murray, who lives a short drive from the club, will have to move to the player’s hotel. Tournament officials have threatened to disqualify players if they or a member of their support team are caught violating the rules.

Johanna Konta, the British professional who is a member of the players’ council for the women’s tour, said that the players understand the need for a balancing act, but that there is also a need to “make room for flexibility, to start giving us a little bit of normalcy. ”

That’s easier said than done, Simon said. Vaccination among gamblers could help the case, but Simon said only about 20 percent of female professionals had been given a shot, mainly because they are not eligible in their countries or are hesitant to get vaccinated. The vaccination rate on the men’s tour is also low for similar reasons. Roger Federer got one. Novak Djokovic, a vaccination skeptic who has had Covid-19, has refused to say whether he has been vaccinated or intends to be.

However, a period of relief may be on the horizon.

After Wimbledon, tennis shifts to the Olympics in Tokyo, where health protocols will be extremely strict. But then the sport moves to North America for hard play. That part of the trip can feel like a slap to top pros. The heat can be oppressive and many players are tired of seven months of travel and competition.

It is unclear what will happen to the National Bank Open, scheduled for Toronto and Montreal, with the Canadian government’s travel restrictions and quarantines still in place, but the expectation is that life in the US, home to a series of tournaments leading up to the US Open , can be free from almost all restrictions, even mandatory mask wearing indoors. With the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, postponed from March to October, players have an excuse to extend their stay in the United States if they wish.

“I am obviously waiting for the week when all this disappears and none of it will be part of our procedure and routine,” Tsitsipas said. “So really looking forward to the next few months. We may see things go back to normal and I’m waiting for that day. ”

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Deskhttps://nationworldnews.com
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