The precarious nature of tennis’ return was brought to the fore this weekend, with a player testing positive for coronavirus during the WTA’s restart in Palermo and serious doubts being raised over the Madrid Open.
There’s an element of risk that comes with travelling to any international tennis tournament in the present climate – something Andy Murray acknowledges as he prepares to head to New York later this month.
With the pandemic far from under control globally, why take the risk?
For Murray, an eagerness to return to a sport he has been, by and large, cruelly parted with due to injury in recent years is a major driving factor.
Indeed, since hobbling out of Wimbledon in 2017, he has only featured in two Grand Slam singles events of a possible 10 – and he is not taking any opportunities to play at majors for granted in the back end of his career.
‘The situation I’ve been in last few years I’ve not had opportunity to play in many Slams,’ the two-time Wimbledon champion said at the Battle of the Brits Team Tennis.
‘I don’t know how many opportunities I’ll have left to play in Slams, so while I’m feeling relatively decent, obviously there is a risk there but I want to try and play in them and enjoy the biggest events again.
‘I missed that a lot, I’ve missed it. I love playing the biggest events, even though this will be different with no fans but that is something I care about and willing to take a risk to go and play.’
The uncertainty facing players was hammered home this weekend. On Saturday, an unnamed asymptomatic female player withdrew from Palermo – the first professional tennis tournament since March – with news breaking just before play started in the Sicilian capital.
‘All those who may have been in close contact with the individual are undergoing testing,’ a statement from the WTA read. ‘The 31st Palermo Ladies Open will continue as planned.’
While Palermo organisers will keep calm and carry on, the Madrid Open – a tournament Murray is scheduled to play in – looks under serious threat.
Tournament organisers were advised by the Spanish health ministry not to hold the clay-court event – scheduled to start a day after the conclusion of the US Open on September 12 – because of Madrid’s ‘deteriorating’ coronavirus situation.
Madrid Open owner Ion Tiriac will make the final decision on whether to hold the event, which is one of two top-tier men’s and women’s tournaments – along with Rome – that will provide a warm-up to the French Open.
‘Due to the increase in cases of Covid-19 in Madrid in recent days, the organisers stated their concerns about being able to stage the tournament free from health complications that might affect the players, fans and staff, said a Madrid Open statement.
Andy Murray’s performance at last 10 Grand Slams
2017 US Open: Did not play
2018 Aus Open: Did not play
2018 French Open: Did not play
2018 Wimbledon: Did not play
2018 US Open: Second round
2019 Aus Open: First round
2019 French Open: Did not play
2019 Wimbledon: Did not play
2019 US Open: Did not play
2020 Aus Open: Did not play
‘In view of this situation, the organisers requested the help of Antonio Zapatero, deputy secretary of public health, and were advised not to stage the tournament due to the current trend of Covid-19 cases.’
Asked about the potential cancellation of the event, Murray added: ‘We have to wait and see, it’s an unbelievably fluid situation right now.
‘I don’t know if Madrid gets cancelled there is the opportunity to potentially put events on elsewhere as well.
‘That’s my understanding, so we have to wait and see what the situation is with that first before commenting. If there were no events and only Rome then that makes it a bit tricky, but similar to the US Open in that we’ve got Cincinnati beforehand.’
Murray has committed to playing in the main draw in Cincinnati rather than entering qualifying – something he was considering in order to buy himself more time between the Masters 1000 event and the US Open.
He is considering jetting in to New York before the biosecure “bubble” conditions are set up by the tournament on August 15 and playing at private courts in order to get used to the city’s playing conditions.
Murray will stay in the designated hotel, rather than renting more sizeable accommodation in the surrounding areas in order to bring a larger entourage with him.
But he admitted there are still concerns over getting insurance for the two team members he intends to bring.
‘Just my physio and my coach,’ he replied when asked who would accompany him to New York. ‘That’s the plan.
‘The most important thing for them is the insurance, the players are insured. We’ve been told there will be one to two members of staff will be insured, don’t know through USTA or ATP exactly, but told that is the case.
‘Until that is certain it is difficult for people to agree to go over there because if you catch something and have to spend a few weeks, potentially a month, in a hospital in America it is tens of thousands of pounds. The insurance is important.’
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