Living in limbo: How China’s ATP/WTA cancellation damages 2020 season

China’s decision to cancel all ATP/WTA events for 2020 has put the tennis season in limbo. The possibility of a full cancellation is in sight.

China has announced, per the Associated Press, that they will not be hosting any international events until the beginning of 2021. This means that 7 WTA tournaments (including the WTA Finals in Shenzhen) and 4 ATP events will all be canceled due to the decision.

The decision puts the entire season for both tours in major jeopardy. While the decisions to play the shortened US hard-court and European clay swings haven’t been reversed, the ATP and WTA have major decisions to make in order to adequately save or scrap the 2020 season.

“Our approach throughout this pandemic has been to always follow local guidance when staging events. We respect the Chinese government’s decision to do what’s best for the country in response to the unprecedented global situation,” said Andrea Gaudenzi, ATP Chairman.

Both tours have discussed a reschedule of the 2020 season following Roland Garros with the likely decision to focus the remainder of the season in Europe. Given that China won’t be allowing international events to be held there and the United States is the current COVID-19 epicenter with 4.1 million positive tests confirmed since mid-March, Europe is the safest option for players.

This continues on the idea that many of the game’s stars will focus their attention on Roland Garros and the other premier events that will be held in September. Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have both confirmed their participation in all three major clay tournaments (Madrid, Rome, Roland Garros), thus taking themselves out of contention to play in New York given the two-week quarantine rule that Europe has placed on all travelers arriving from the United States.

All things considered, a scrap of the 2020 season after Roland Garros (for both tours) might be the most beneficial option financially. The US Open is committing to 91% of the prize money despite revenue being down a projected 80% due to a lack of fans in attendance. Roland Garros will have a small percentage of fans in attendance but will still be losing money if they decide to keep the total prize money numbers as high as last year (42.7 million euros, or 50.2 million USD, in 2019).

This isn’t something the ATP can keep up for long. A few months isn’t a huge loss; it gives the players the opportunity to receive prize money after not having access to it since the March shutdown and allows fans to still tune in via ATP/WTA streaming services to follow the events.

Long-term, however, it simply isn’t going to work. The season is in hot water as it is and with the huge amount of positive tests springing up in the United States’ MLB and NFL, who’s to say the same won’t happen to players returning from the US to take part in Europe-based tournaments following Roland Garros?

Positive cases will spring up in tennis. It can’t be avoided, especially considering the month-long stretch where a large handful of players will be competing in the virus-stricken US. Major protocols would need to be put into place if the ATP and WTA decide to reschedule the 2020 season in order to accommodate the possibility of spreading the virus.

Lower-level players will look to the tours for prize money regardless of their decision. Unlike many of tennis’ top stars, their tournament winnings are how they gt by week-by-week. Exhibition tournaments do nothing but eat up funds without much gain other than a few matches of practice.

Much like the situation that surrounded the sport months ago when the season wasn’t yet confirmed to return, it’s going to take generosity and smart decision-making in order for players to receive their winnings, the tours to remain afloat in terms of revenue, and for everyone to be safe (most importantly).

Until then, tennis will be living week-by-week, hoping each day that COVID-19 doesn’t take over. It’s life as normal now for everyone involved.