Wimbledon 2021 Threads of Uncertainty on Full Display as Tennis Returns to Wimbledon: With tennis returning to the All England Club on Monday, the only thing that will be certain about the sport’s recovery from the epidemic will be the clean whites that players will wear during the following two weeks. The sport is undergoing its own tumultuous transformation. Tennis, like restaurants, schools, stores, and culture in general, remains uncertain in a pandemic world, even though the return of Wimbledon is a pleasant occasion.
Last year’s Wimbledon was cancelled because of the pandemic. Roger Federer served with two set points against Novak Djokovic in the 2019 final, only for Djokovic to survive and win the championship. The UK has become one of the primary hotspots for the COVID-19 Delta variation, which has been identified as the newest and most transmissible strain of the coronavirus and has arrived at the same time as looser limits public gatherings.
Even though declaring the epidemic finished based on falling mortality rates isn’t precisely the criterion for declaring the coast clear, people appear to be ready to move on. There was no discussion of cancelling the event this year. However, some players voiced concern about playing in front of empty seats for the second year in a row. The Wimbledon grounds are small, and the number of fans has exceeded the grounds’ renowned charm, yet the event demands confirmation of complete immunization or a negative test within 48 hours. Despite fluctuating vaccination rates and increases in the United Kingdom, India, and South America, capacity throughout the grounds will be limited to 50% for the Wimbledon fortnight until the finals, when it will be extended to 100% for both the men’s and women’s title matches.
The European soccer championships are being held at several locations throughout the continent, a plan that seems premature for tennis, a sport that, unlike soccer, is frequently played inside and in close quarters. The decision to play or watch is as much an emotional one as it is a scientific one, and the mental toll of what the world has experienced in the shadow of 4 million dead must be explored rather than politicized at some point.
Gael Monfils, the French magician, was having his best start to a season in years at the start of 2020, going 16-3 with two championships and only losing to top-5 players Dominic Thiem and Novak Djokovic, but since the epidemic began, Monfils has hardly won a match. Monfils went 0-4 following the restart in 2020, and he is 2-11 after then. There’s a distinction to be made between effect and harm. For the past 16 months, the pandemic’s consequences have been very evident. It will take years to assess the damage. Monfils’ tumultuous post-restart career, which is one of the finest reasons to attend any event, should be educational. Monfils, Thiem, and Benoit Paire have all voiced concern over the epidemic, and their play has deteriorated as a result. The players’ mental wellness is not limited to the interview room.
Osaka’s withdrawal from Roland-Garros triggered a debate on athletes’ mental health, focusing on the long-running and never-ending struggle between the press and athletes rather than the actual battleground: the Grand Slam Board’s harsh and unwarranted response. However, Osaka’s struggle has essentially become her own after a month. If there is a wider movement backing her concerns, it is now mute. Almost no players have indicated the need for the adjustments she seemed to be proposing, and she has now missed the last two major tournaments, which is a blow to the events, her as a champion, the headline draw, and the fans who come to watch her play. It’s a better tournament if Osaka is in it.
She is the defending winner of the US Open, which is where she first became involved in the athlete campaign against police brutality. Osaka, like Djokovic, is the best hard-court player in the world, and while the tournaments have taken a firm, united stance to maintain control while also appearing to remind her that she is just a player and that the show will go on without her — the game isn’t as good without its best players. The public, or at least its ardent social media component, saw the Osaka case as a media vs player legal battle while the fight is still a labour dispute. The participants define the game.
And what will the game’s players do with it? The major events of the tennis calendar were Osaka’s rise as a figure in the social justice movement and the 2020 pandemic shutdown. However, the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA), led by Novak Djokovic and Vasek Pospisil, continues to emerge as an upstart challenger to both the ATP and WTA as an alternative (and possibly unisex) players’ union. Djokovic revealed that he has been chatting with Serena Williams about the PTPA, which might be significant. A men’s and women’s tennis union, as well as a joint advocacy group, would be unprecedented.
The PTPA, on the other hand, is now more appealing as a notion than as a reality. Competition is always beneficial because it encourages institutions to improve. However, for an opening act, the PTPA appears to be more of a problem than a solution. Even though he is the unquestioned top tennis player in the world, Djokovic has failed to acquire the necessary trust in numbers to be seen as a real leader while actively advocating for lower-ranked players who find tennis to be financially prohibitive. The PTPA named an executive director and advisory board a week ago. Katarina Pijetlovic, one of those members, has previously apologised for previous nasty comments regarding “several high-profile athletes.” Pijetlovic said “many tweets from a long time ago,” yet it was only nine months ago, in September 2020, that she labelled Osaka “all phoney” in a now-deleted tweet — hardly ancient history and certainly not the first act of a body seeking to persuade players it can be trusted.
The ATP retaliated to the PTPA statement, stating that it is the only voice of male tennis players and the only player partner with the sport’s business, especially as the game approaches a critical vote on a 30-year strategic plan that will determine the sport’s future. Djokovic retaliated on social media, attempting to postpone the vote. The ATP fired back. Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, the sport’s other two titans, look to be staunch supporters of the ATP. Returning to grass tennis will compete for attention with the players who are ripping each other apart.
The ATP’s senior leadership has been fracturing for years, and the organization’s past would make women wary of any engagement with the males. It was at Wimbledon in 2013, when the men tried all they could to convince the women that they were unworthy of sharing a tournament with them since males resolve their disputes in best-of-five matches at majors while women play best-of-three. The implication was that women were not entitled to equal pay since they spend measurably less time in court. Gilles Simon, the French player who chaired the ATP Player Council at the time, was painted as the bad guy chauvinist; however, Simon was speaking for all male players, and men’s players did not protest Simon’s position during that Wimbledon, which was won by equal-rights winner Andy Murray.
The ATP saw the PTPA as a danger, not a collaborator, but a new union that included women under one banner would undoubtedly capture the sport’s attention and, at least in principle, weaken the men’s game’s long-standing chauvinism against the women’s game.
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