March 1, 2021

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Antwerp to close its doors this weekend as restrictions continue to challenge

restriction

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Belgium has been as hard hit by the coronavirus as any country lately.

Still, the European Open tried to welcome a limited number of fans on site for this week’s ATP Tour event in Antwerp.

On Friday, the tournament announced that while it would honour the tickets of those attending that day, it would close its doors for the weekend.

After meeting Thursday night (which had been moved up from Friday), Belgian officials announced an increase in the strictness of the measures they have put in place to try to mitigate the spread of the virus.

The new measures go into effect Friday, lasting until at least Nov. 19 – but the tournament got a mulligan for the day, given the new restrictions were only announced in the afternoon.

Restrictions on sporting events

The public will no longer be allowed to attend sporting events, whether amateur or professional. Authorities suspended all amateur competitions except those involving kids under 18. But only one family member can accompany them.

A week ago, the limit on sporting events had been lowered from 400 to 200.

Authorities imposed a limit of 40 attendees at religious, cultural, educational or other associations, if the gatherings can respect the rules. Although if social distancing is possible (they define this as 1 1/2 metres between bubbles), those gatherings can increase in number up to 200. Schools remain open, but with restricted capacity.

On Monday, the country closed cafΓ©s and restaurants for a month, and installed a midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew. There also is a limit on one person at a time visiting a household.

Many experts in Belgium think they’re not going far enough.

Cases rising everywhere in Europe

Belgium has had an average of over 8,000 new cases a day the last two weeks (three days last week, that was over 11,000). They’ve gone up over 1,000 cases per 100,000 inhabitants the last 14 days – a 251 per cent increase. And the positivity rate of testing is at nearly 20 per cent.

The new-case curves look fairly similar, relative-growth wise, in the Czech Republic (where the WTA Tour event in Ostrava is going on without fans this week). They resemble those in Austria (where the Vienna tournament is scheduled next week, and Linz for the women in a few weeks), in France, where the Paris Masters is to take place later this month and the U.K., where the ATP Tour Finals are to close out the season.

Paris Masters reduces fans

The Masters 1000 indoors in Bercy, the Rolex Paris Masters, is to start Oct. 31.

Defending champion Novak Djokovic is all over the promo for this month’s Paris Masters. But he won’t be there. Djokovic has smartly decided to take advantage of the pandemic ranking rules that allow him to keep his 1000 points from the 2019 edition. He’ll play the ATP 500 in Vienna instead as preparation for the ATP Tour Finals). (Photo: Accor Arena website)

But it has reduced the attendance considerably. It will allow 1,000 fans into the day sessions, on the main court.

But (in consideration of the curfew in Paris), it will play behind closed doors for night sessions. And fans (and media) will not be allowed on the secondary courts. Or for the qualifying.

It cancelled all pre-sold tickets to clubs and French federation members. And put those 1,000 ducats on sale online Thursday – first come, first serve for those fans.

What remained was put on sale to the general public at 3 p.m. Friday, Paris time.

The wait time was real.

They will separate each group of ticket buyers (a max of six – and you know these are not all members of the same families) by … a seat.

As of Friday at 5:15 p.m. Paris time, all the sessions had sold out except for a handful tickets on Wednesday (at 28 euros) and Thursday (at 45 euros). (By the time I would have refreshed, they’d have been gone).

Given what we saw at Roland Garros with the way the fans clustered, we don’t have a ton of faith in that process.

All over the age of 11 must wear a mask (as is the case generally in Paris – and it’s something they all seemed to be abiding by when Open Court was there for Roland Garros).

Decreased prize money

The total purse for the Paris Masters was reduced by 30 per cent, which will be the case going forward on the ATP Tour, to varying degrees.

The total will be €4,289,970, compared to € 5,791,280 a year ago.

But it will distribute the money slightly more equitably, with the champion’s purse reduced by more than two-thirds. The winner will earn €301,975 in 2020 (€ 995,720 in 2019); first-round losers will earn €22,275 (€ 19,800 in 2019).

First-round losers in the qualifying, who made € 3,725 last year, will get €6,160 this year.

The main draw will have 56 players instead of the usual 48 (in other words, byes to only the top eight seeds compared to the usual 16).

Small events back on in U.S.

This week, the first pro-level event since the Oracle Challenger at Indian Wells in early March is taking place in Macon, Georgia.

The $80,000 ITF tournament is going on without fans, and with limited testing. A similar tournament in Tyler, Texas should follow next week and a $100,000 tournament in Charleston, S.C. the week after that.

A number of ATP Challenger events canceled their plans earlier in the season.

However, it appears Challengers in Cary, NC (week of Nov. 9), Orlando, Fla. (week of No. 16) are still on.

The two tournaments were originally scheduled to take place in September, right after the US Open. A third Challenger scheduled for that period in Colombus, Ohio was cancelled outright.

Other events cancelled for 2021

*Tennis Canada has already announced that three Challenger-level events – in Calgary and Drummondville for the men, and in Fredericton N.B. for the women – will not take place in February and March as planned.

*The Dow Classic in Midland, Michigan, a longstanding $100,000 USTA Pro Circuit tournament for the women, has postponed its 2021 edition. It was to take place the first week of February; now, it plans to hold it in Nov. 2021 and then have it again in early Feb. 2022.

https://twitter.com/DowTennisCL/status/1318190164917837825

*The Vendee Challenger cancelled its 2020 edition.

https://twitter.com/ITVChallenger/status/1318200927908757505

What about Oz?

Well, information is non-existent on either the Australian Open or Tennis Australia websites. That’s not unusual for that federation, which generally emphasizes good news to the exclusion of all else.

But in this case, there isn’t much to tell.

And there’s a lot at stake. Not only the first Grand Slam tournament of 2022, but all of the tuneup events – and the second edition of the ATP Cup.

The ASB Classic in Auckland, NZ officially cancelled its tournaments Oct. 6. The exhibition tournament at Kooyong the week before the Australian Open also cancelled.

Here’s what’s at stake on the ATP and WTA Tours.

14-day quarantine restrictions

At this point, the major sticking point in terms of the players is the mandatory 14-day quarantine.

It’s not a “stay at home and wait it out” type of quarantine. Mere mortals must sock themselves away at a hotel not of their choice, at considerable expense.

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley is trying to fashion a quarantine for players at a resorts where they could leave their rooms to train and prepare for the season.

This was Melbourne in January. Hard to fathom; it feels like another universe. (Stephanie Myles/OpenCourt.ca)

As it is, the players will have to arrive in Australia by mid-December if they want to play the entire Australian summer (assuming it goes ahead).

The other problem is … flights. Not only are they in short supply as the country limits the number of arrivals to not overwhelm its quarantine hotel capacity, they are … expensive.

Happy trails – if you can pay for it

A quick look at a round-trip flight from Montreal and various other departure cities in mid-December to Melbourne, with a return after the Australian Open, was a jarring sight. Beyond the prices, the itineraries were extra-lengthy (even more than the best-case scenarios for travelling to the other side of the world, which are already challenging).

Also, the restrictions in the state of Victoria, which includes Melbourne, are stricter than anywhere else at this point although they were relaxed a little last week.

The case counts are extremely low in Australia, in relation to the restrictions. Authorities announced one confirmed case Friday in the entire state of Victoria. But they want to keep it that way. They have raised the cap – a little – on international flights as there are thousands of Australians who still can’t get home.

Intra-Aussie travel a question mark

Quarantine flexibility and international travellers are still down the road (and they’ve not indicated how long that road is).

Awhile back, we hear, the agents were being told that the plan was to have “bubbles” that included the hotels and tournament sites for the first couple of weeks of the Australian summer. That way, de facto, the players would have done their 14-day quarantine by the time the Australian Open rolled around. Clearly, what they were being told them was a bit of wishful thinking.

With the border restrictions between states the way they are, there’s no way to hold an event like the ATP Cup as it stands. The inaugural edition in January took place in Brisbane and Sydney and across the country in Perth.

Brisbane and Queensland are in good shape in terms of allowing fans into sporting events. But will the players be able to freely travel across Aussie state borders? That’s the question. (Stephanie Myles/OpenCourt.ca).

Western Australia (which includes Perth) is the only territory that hasn’t agreed to a relaxation of state border restrictions by Christmas.

As of last week, Tiley needed to know within two weeks or a month at the outside what the situation would be. As it is, early optimistic scenarios about the number of fans that might attend are down to, provisionally, 25 per cent of capacity.