Print Sport Editor Nick Powell takes a look at the growing debate over whether to hold the remaining tennis Grand Slams of 2020 as Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal, Dan Evans and Judy Murray were among the many top tennis names to give their opinion on the potential return to play.
‘Selfish’, ‘extreme’, ‘doesn’t make sense’, the comments of Nick Kyrgios, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal respectively on plans to hold the US Open behind closed doors with limited access to support teams. Indeed these are just some comments of many from Men’s tennis players who are vehemently opposed to Grand Slams coming back in New York at the end of August.
In stark contrast however, many Women’s players have a very different opinion. Karolina Pliskova, the World no. 3, argues that tennis in front of no fans is better than no tennis at all. According to her coach Patrick Mouratoglu, Serena Williams, now in the twilight of her illustrious career, ‘would love to play’ at the US Open.
This is, of course, not solely a gender divide. Both of Japan’s top Women’s and Men’s players, Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori, have given their support to the US Open restarting. Meanwhile British Men’s Number One Dan Evans has said there has to be “give and take” from the players, with the World Number 28 pointing out that lower ranked players would not only have more of a chance, being used to playing in front of near-empty stadiums and having one coach, but that they are almost dependent on the prize money for income.
Ultimately it seems this financial divide is where the lines can be drawn in the constant rally of opinions, as American World Number 51 Danielle Collins pointed out, “It’s easy when someone’s made $150m throughout their career to try and tell people what to do with their money, and then turn down playing in the US Open,” a less than subtle nod to messrs Djokovic and Nadal.
For what its worth, my opinion is much the same. If Djokovic and Nadal feel they cannot operate to their best with limits imposed on the number of coaching staff they can bring, and having to play in front of empty stadia, then they have no obligation to play. The same applies to Nick Kyrgios, whose reluctance to endure a two-week quarantine after playing at Flushing Meadows has caused him to criticise the United States Tennis Association (USTA).
A month ago, Dan Evans argued it would be an “iconic” occassion and seeing the top players play in empty stadiums would be remembered forever. That may well be true, but I would argue the fact everyone has the same limits to their coaching team and have to play in the same eerie atmosphere would be an even more “iconic” kind of leveller that would open up these competitions in a way, particularly the men’s game, so desperately needs.
In contrast to rugby, where motives to restart the season are based on unsustainable greed, holding these grand slams allows players to gain access to the income they need, many to be able to continue their careers as professional tennis players.
Though there is now gender equality, tennis prize money is ridiculously heavily weighted to the players that perform the very best, so of course they are more likely to be reluctant to play when there are inconveniences.
Both Djokovic and Nadal have enough money that they could retire right now and live lives of complete luxury never having to work a day again. If they don’t play, it will allow the long awaited “next generation” to come through in the men’s game.
Excluding Serena Williams, who will be motivated by the fact her quest for history is running out of time, few of the top Women’s players have fulfilled all their career ambitions and will be desperate to play.
So now it is over the USTA. Do they listen to two of the most influential characters to have graced the sport in the last fifteen years? Or do they go with the majority of players’ opinions, and potentially preserve some livelihoods, as they pursue a tournament behind closed doors with limits to coaching staff.
It seems a no-brainer, but for the powers that make the decision, it will be a tough solution to find, and that’s without knowing about the possibility of a second wave or other changes that could occur in the situation.