DÃœSSELDORF, Germany (AP) – There were no spectators, no line judges, no ballkids — and no post-match handshake at the net — as an exhibition tennis event got underway in Germany on Friday with professional players, a rare instance of live, televised sports held during the coronavirus pandemic.
Just three men were involved in each contest for what will be a four-day event at an academy near the small town of HÃ¶hr-Grenzhausen: two players, who sat on opposite sides of the indoor clay court, and a chair umpire.
â€œI like working with the crowd. I like having the energy on the court. Thereâ€™s people watching, they get pumped, so that gives me a lot of energy and makes the thing more fun. … Itâ€™s kind of hard that itâ€™s gone completely,â€ Florian Broska, who plays college tennis at Mississippi State, told The Associated Press after his opening match Friday. â€œSo Iâ€™m trying to get my own energy, but obviously itâ€™s not the same.â€
With the menâ€™s and womenâ€™s pro tennis tours suspended at least until mid-July because of the COVID-19 outbreak, there is not much of a chance for players to play the sport or for fans to watch it. But this mini-tournament with a round-robin format and an eight-man field — Dustin Brown, who upset Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon in 2015, is the biggest name — is among a growing number of unsanctioned competitions dotting the tennis calendar.
Two more events are planned for the same venue in Germany later this month.
Fridayâ€™s matches were shown in the United States on Tennis Channel, which also will air a round-robin event from West Palm Beach, Florida, on May 8-10. That will involve four men vying for prize money: 2019 U.S. Open semifinalist Matteo Berrettini of Italy and top-60 Americans Reilly Opelka, Tennys Sandgren and Tommy Paul.
A similar event in the same place is scheduled for May 22-24 with four female pros in the top 60: Alison Riske, Amanda Anisimova, Danielle Collins and Ajla Tomljanovic.
Serena Williamsâ€™ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, is setting up exhibitions at his tennis academy in Nice, France, with 10th-ranked David Goffin of Belgium slated to face 103rd-ranked Alexei Popyrin of Australia on May 16.
The Tennis Integrity Unit, which oversees anti-corruption efforts in the sport, issued a statement Friday to point out that while â€œa number of new tennis eventsâ€ have not been â€œauthorized or sanctioned by the governing bodies of tennis,â€ players, officials and support staff are still covered by the TIUâ€™s rules.
â€œThe TIU has, upon request, provided integrity-related information to some event organizers,â€ the statement read. â€œThis does not constitute advice and can in no way be seen as an endorsement or approval for any event that does not come under its jurisdiction.â€
These attempts to return to tennis in some form offer some insight into what sports might look like whenever they resume on a larger scale.
Germany has started to ease its lockdown measures in a cautious way. Major events are not going to be allowed any time soon; soccer at closed stadiums is being considered for later in May.
At the tennis exhibition, players wear masks when they arenâ€™t on court, minimize contact with others and, as Broska noted, there is â€œhand sanitizer everywhere.â€
While waiting to play, they watch matches through a window in the venueâ€™s bar area while sitting in what Broska called â€œboxes,â€ individual areas separated by dividers.
Unmanned TV cameras stand in fixed positions.
â€œOn the court, it doesnâ€™t really change anything. At least, thatâ€™s what I should tell myself. When youâ€™re on the court and you see the cameras at the beginning, youâ€™re like: â€˜Oh, shoot. Something is happening,â€™â€ said Broska, who lives near the venue.
U.S. college tennis doesnâ€™t offer ranking points, making it hard for players to make their mark internationally. Broska said he isnâ€™t being paid for the tournament, unlike his opponents, so he can retain his college eligibility.
â€œThis is to show people that I can play tennis at that level,â€ Broska said, â€œeven if I donâ€™t have the ranking or the results that these guys have.â€
AP Photographer Martin Meissner in HÃ¶hr-Grenzhausen, and AP Tennis Writer Howard Fendrich in Washington contributed to this report.
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