July 10, 2020

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Exclusive: ATP Tour plans stringent requirements for the return to play

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The ATP Tour released a statement Monday, reacting to the news that two of its top players had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus after taking part in Novak Djokovic’s Adria Tour.

And in a 36-page working document shared with Open Court, it’s clear the Tour is working diligently and comprehensively to try to mitigate every possible scenario, as it prepares to return to play in mid-August.

It must be noted that this document is very much a work in progress, and might look different the closer the Tour gets to an official return (hopefully) at the Citi Open.

The guidelines and directives are exhaustive. The cost of implementing all of them is not insignificant, especially for the smaller ATP Tour stops. So that is going to be one challenge going forward.

The directives also are subject to updates, as events warrant. The document we were given access to was dated June 10 and had already been added to and expanded.

The requirements range from testing, to travel and accommodation, to on-site conditions, to media and security.

There are three scenarios being considered. The worst is the current one – no fans, and “extremely limited” on-site personnel. If things improve, a second scenario would allow for limited spectators, but still a limit to on-site personnel. The best-case scenario would have conditions at a pre-COVID level, with additional health and social distancing measures.

Let’s just say that the best-case scenario is the least likely of the three.

Here are the highlights of the plan (and yes, as long as this is, it’s only a drop in the bucket).

What has yet to be determined, or at least not laid out in this document, is what the penalties could be for tournaments – or players – who contravene the directives.

Testing is key

As with the US Open guidelines, the ATP Tour events will have the players tested upon arrival at the hotel.

“Prior to the establishment and validation of a vaccination for COVID‐19, all players, player support personnel, ATP, tournaments staff and any other credentialed individuals would be required to undergo health screening and COVID‐19 testing to establish to the best of our knowledge that they are presently virus‐free and would not endanger other competitors or individuals.”

*There would be increased “strict fragmentation and partitioning of all areas” to reduce the temptation for people to gather in groups. And additional medical experts both on site and at the official hotels. Players and staff would first be tested upon arrival at the hotel from the airport.

*Mandatory temperature screening at entry points to the site, as well as additional health questions. There would need to be areas near the entry (but outside the site) for the quarantine and further examination of anyone with a temperature, or who doesn’t have the right answers to the questions. The additional medical personnel must be equipped with PPE.

*The tests to be used would be the PCR test (polymerase chain reaction) test, as well as serological testing to detect antibodies, performed at regular intervals – but less frequently than the PCR testing. PCR testing would be repeated every four days – unless there’s evidence that they need to be administered more or less often.

*If there is a positive case, players in close contact would be tested every two days. Given the timeframe to get testing results, they’re requiring players to both arrive early, and must develop a protocol to determine what those tested can do, or where they can be, until the results come in. The ATP also doesn’t yet know if the tournaments can get enough test kits to fulfil all of these criteria.

Travel is a wild card

The ATP Tour is recommending (assuming travel restrictions are all lifted – a big “if”), that players and staff get tested before leaving home. It also recommends that the player and team isolate “in a secure location” at or near the airport before boarding the flight.

*Chartered private flights for international players who want to play an event are recommended, leaving five days before the main draw of a tournament from 1-4 airports around the world.

*The ATP also recommends players be fast-tracked through customs and immigration, and not interact “with anyone from the public sector”. Transport to the hotel for those on chartered slights would have “appropriate internal partitioning and distancing for all individuals.” No one else gets on those buses, except the driver of course.

Leaving the event

Beginning on the Wednesday of the tournament, sanitized buses will transport players and teams to the airport. Before boarding, “advanced COVID-19 testing” is required for anyone heading to the next ATP Tour event. They plan on having one chartered private flight per day to the next event (i.e., from Washington, D.C. to New York after the Citi Open).

The players would be tested again upon arrival in the new city. Those who want to drive there will also be tested upon arrival, before they can access the venue.

At the tournaments, people are required to observe the regular social-distancing measures as they wait for tournament transportation, and everyone have to wear a face mark while they wait.

Hotel accommodations

The tournaments are encouraged to use as few hotels as possible, preferably as close to the tournament site as possible to encourage less use of the locker rooms and the player lounges on site.

Masks will be required for anyone in the public areas in those hotels, and approved quarantine facilities are to be provided.

The use of room service is recommended. Breakfast will be provided only at the hotel, while lunch and dinner will be available both on site and at the hotel.

On-site personnel

In the worst-case scenario, only the players and team, “essential” tournament staff, ATP staff, Anti-Doping and Anti-Corruption personnel will be allowed on site.

And, notably – anyone applying for a tournament must sign a “COVID‐19 waiver form prior to being granted access to any tournament areas, including but not limited to the tournament area at the airport, official hotel, and tournament venue. These locations will be considered core event areas where strict policies and procedures will apply.”

Balls and courts

Before the Indian Wells tournament was cancelled, they tested out the ball kids at the Oracle Challenger with the gloves (although no masks). (Stephanie Myles/OpenCourt.ca)

The cans of balls should only be opened by officials wearing gloves and face coverings. If a match is suspended because of weather, those match balls will not be used in the warmup.

Using new balls for every practice session is encouraged. The players will only be allowed one practice session per day, and should arrive as close to the scheduled time as possible.

A court monitor must be assigned to each match court, and another to the practice courts.

Tournament staff who prepare, dry and clean the courts must have the appropriate protection. Unlike at many events, where you can see the ball kids used to dry the courts after the rain, that won’t be allowed.

Gone – at least for now – will be the on-court socializing as one group of practicing player finishes up ,and the other group takes over. (Stephanie Myles/Opencourt.ca)

Players arriving on site to practice can only go directly to the practice area or the gym, and are to return to the hotel right afterwards without socializing. Specific holding areas are to be designated and marked where players can wait for their practice courts; no more greetings and hugs from the teams at shift change time. Players can only get on the court after all those who were on it have left, and “proper cleaning has been performed”.

A distance of two metres “to be maintained at all times” between tournament staff, umpires, ball persons and players  on court. Handshaking, obviously, is “strongly discouraged”. And there will be no kids escorting the players out for matches.

Miscellaneous

In the most stringent scenario, all tournaments will be required to provide electronic line calling on all courts to assist the chair umpire. Needless to say, that can be a significant expense. If there are no line umpires on court, the number of player challenges will either increase or possibly become unlimited.

Challenges could be increased – or even become unlimited – on courts where only a chair umpire presides.

*Covered bins with hands-free opening systems marked with a sign saying “Items for disinfection” must be placed on each court for used towels.

*Players will be provided with biodegradable bags to collect their sweaty clothes during the match. No throwing them on the bench or on the court. And each court will be equipped with something (a bin, hook or basket) where they can leave their towels during the match, and they have to go fetch them themselves. There are to be one in each corner of the court, per player – so eight overall.

There will be no leeway for the guys who go through a lot of shirts during a match to just lay them out to dry, under the new restrictions (Stephanie Myles/Opencourt.ca)

*Once the match is over, all the used towels will be removed by PPE-wearing staff, and all those basket/bin areas will be disinfected.  Every item the chair umpire comes into contact with also is to be disinfected between matches.

*For doubles, even the chairs belonging to partners are to be placed two metres apart.

*All court gates and stair rails should be wrapped with warning tape to discourage touching.

*Fruit and snacks should be available in the player lounge – but with appropriate packaging.

*Partitioning is to be installed in the player lounge – minimum eight of two metres, “forming cubicle type of small areas for more privacy and protection”. No more than two people per area. Same thing in the player restaurant.

Social distancing will even extend to the player restaurant and locker rooms.

*Limits on the number of people allowed in the lounge at one time, and a time limit set for how long people can be in there. The lounge is to be used only when waiting to play a match, and all surfaces should be cleaned every hour.

Outdoor gyms – and maybe no showering

*Tournaments are encouraged to set up outdoor gyms to increase ventilation, and the number of coaches allowed in an indoor gym at the same time should be minimal.

A new outdoor gym facility at Wimbledon last summer was a big hit with the players. (Stephanie Myles/Opencourt.ca)

*In the locker room, the use of showers or lockers that are less than two metres apart is not allowed. In the worst-case scenario, the use of the locker rooms will not be allowed at all; the players must shower at the hotel.

*Tournament stringers must wear PPE and maintain physical distancing. There is also the possibility, for the two worst scenarios, of setting up the stringing service outside the facility with a safe drop and delivery service.

*Tournament officials should always wear “at least” a mask on site, and maintain social distance. Partitioning also to be added to their areas.

*For ball persons, masks and disposable gloves are required to be a part of their official clothing. They are not to handle towels on court, and must social distance on court.

*If media is allowed, they must wear at least a mask, and maintain social distancing. And each tournament should install video conferencing facilities to allow media not on site to participate. If no media is allowed at all, players will be brought to a video conference room after matches for press conferences and one-on-ones. Any post-match interviews on court must have the appropriate social distancing.

*Treatment tables in the ATP physio room must be socially distant, and physios can only treat one player at a time. No coaches or other team members will be allowed in there. For the two worst-case scenarios, an off-site player treatment room will be considered, likely at the hotel.