Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Novak Djokovic Tests Positive for Covid-19; USTA President Galbraith on US Open; D-I Southern Utah Drops Men's and Women's Tennis; Fernandez Beats Navarro in French Open Girls Final Rematch

There is really only one story in tennis today, with the announcement from World No. 1 Novak Djokovic that he has tested positive for the Covid-19 virus. His wife also tested positive; their two children tested negative.  As the world's top player, the head of the ATP Player Council and the organizer of the Adria Tour that appears to be the nexus of the outbreak that now has sickened four ATP pros, Djokovic is now facing inevitable scrutiny about his judgment and what it means for the future of not only his career, but that of the sport itself.

Alarms were sounded from the first day of Adria Tour matches, which featured no concessions to the pandemic that has been raging for nearly six months. In his announcement of his positive test, Djokovic didn't offer much in the way of contrition, but in a second statement this evening said:  

I am so deeply sorry our tournament has caused harm. Everything the organisers and I did the past month, we did with a pure heart and sincere intentions.

“We believed the tournament met all health protocols and the health of our region seemed in good condition to finally unite people for philanthropic reasons.

“We were wrong and it was too soon.

“If you attended Adria Tour or were around any attendees, please get tested and practice social distancing.

“I pray for everyone's full recovery.”

The self-centered focus of a professional athlete, particularly a tennis player, is hardly a shock, but for all the accomplishments that produces, it does have a downside, which we've certainly seen here. SI.com's Jon Wertheim likens it to a Greek tragedy in his reaction, Steve Tignor also weighs in on the limits of confidence in this article at tennis.com.

The three pro tournaments scheduled for August and September in the United States are not helped by these developments and the steady number of cases still being diagnosed, but as of now, they are still on.  The USTA Eastern section recorded a conversation with USTA President Patrick Galbraith, who was not on last week's US Open media conference call, and he remains optimistic about those events. Tennis Now has this recap of the conversation, which includes a link to the full interview.

Another Division I school has discontinued its tennis programs, with Southern Utah making their announcement today. The school did not have a long tradition of tennis, starting programs in 2012, when it joined the Big Sky conference. As the announcement states, they will have 15 sports programs remaining, one more than the NCAA requirement for maintaining Division I status. Scholarships will be honored for those who wish to stay at the school.

Bobby Knight of College Tennis Today tweeted the Division I schools who have dropped tennis in 2020; not all are related to Covid-19.  I'll keep adding to this list, which is certain to grow over the next few months.
Akron (W) Appalachian State (M) Arkansas Pine Bluff (M/W) East Carolina (M/W) Florida A&M (M) Kansas City (M) Southern Utah (M/W) USC Upstate (M/W) UW Green Bay (M/W) Valparaiso (M) Winthrop (M/W) Wright State (M/W)

The Credit One Bank Invitational, the women's team exhibition in Charleston South Carolina, is underway, and I had an opportunity to watch it this afternoon on Tennis Channel.  Held on the site of the Volvo Car Open, but without any spectators, it obviously didn't have any of the atmosphere of a regular tour event, but several things contributed to it being more watchable than some of the previous exhibitions. Most notably, for me, was the format, which was regular advantage scoring (I assume a third set is a tiebreaker, but both matches I watched were completed in straight sets).  With all the Fast 4 events recently, it was terrific to get back to normal, watching the tension develop in a lengthy game. There actually weren't too many of those long games, with Sofia Kenin beating Alison Riske 6-1, 6-1 and Leylah Fernandez defeating Emma Navarro 6-4, 6-0, but it helped me take the results seriously.

Ted Robinson and Tracy Austin provided the commentary, there were ballrunners with tubes so that they didn't have to handle the balls, and each player had a whole section of the stadium to serve as their own player lounge. Players called their own lines, which has proven to be much less disruptive than I had thought it would be.

All of the precautions helped to quell the fears that the disastrous Adria Tour had raised, but that doesn't guarantee a Covid-free event, and I'm sure everyone in tennis has their fingers crossed that nothing goes wrong during the next five days in Charleston.

Tennis.com has coverage of the event here, including a video interview with Fernandez, who won the rematch of last year's French Open girls final against Navarro. Navarro is scheduled to start her collegiate career at Virginia this fall.