September 25, 2020

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The professional tours scrambled to put together a clay-court season, of sorts, in the fall after the lockdown scuttled it in May.

In the process, it could salvage two of the biggest events below the Grand Slams: the joint ATP/WTA events in Madrid and Rome, both Masters 1000-level tournaments for the men, and big-money Premier tournaments for the women.

But the warning signs appeared last week: the local authorities were advising the Mutua Madrid Open in Madrid and tournament owner Ion Tiriac, to cancel the event.

They had planned to open the events to fan – at 30 percent of the Caja Magica’s capacity.

On Monday, multiple reports in the Spanish media indicate that, after the ATP Tour had a Zoom meeting on Monday, the Mutua Madrid Open is cancelled.

On Tuesday, the WTA and ATP Tours made it official, with updates to the provisional calendars being “assessed”.

The official statements from the heads of the tours don’t add much.

Statement from ATP Tour chairman Andrea Gaudenzi:

“We share in the disappointment that the Mutua Madrid Open will not be able to take place this year. The circumstances concerning COVID-19 are continually evolving and we continue to take guidance from local authorities in our decision-making. I would like to thank the Mutua Madrid Open tournament organizers for their efforts to run this year’s event, which included the rescheduling of their dates from May to September, and we look forward to the event’s successful return in 2021.”

Statement from WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon:

“We are disappointed the Mutua Madrid Open will not be held this year but we are proud of the dedication set forth by Feliciano and the entire tournament team, who have worked tirelessly to consider and facilitate all possible alternatives in making the tournament happen this year. We know how beloved this combined men’s and women’s event is for fans, especially with the anticipation of the Tour’s return to play, but we remain vigilant to ensure health and safety remains our top priority for all.”

Djokovic gives colleagues heads up

According to a report in Marca Monday morning, Player Council president Novak Djokovic gave his top-100 colleagues a headsup on their WhatsApp chat that the cancellation of Madrid was imminent.

The implications of the cancellation are significant – both on the quarantine side, and on how the cancellation might affect some players’ plans for the US Open.

According to Marca, negotiations had been successful with the Spanish government that players could travel from New York back to Spain, and not be subject to a 14-day quarantine.

An agreement with the Italian government – which now, in theory, will hold the first “clay-court” tournament the following week in Rome – is not yet nailed down.

There is another clay-court tournament, in Kitzbuhel, Austria, to be held the second week of the US Open. But it won’t draw a significant field, and therefore is less of a key to the overall return.

To that end, Marca also is reporting that the ATP is thinking of pushing Kitzbuhel back a week, to fit into the Madrid slot.

Halep jumps back into the mix?

On the plus side, the lack of big event the week immediately following the US Open could encourage players expecting a good run in Queens to play it, because they wouldn’t have to madly rush to Madrid, and change surfaces, to begin the Mutua Madrid Open a few days later.

World No. 2 on the WTA side, Simona Halep, had not been expected to sign on at the US Open. But suddenly, right at the entry deadline on Monday, her name appeared on the entry list.

Marca (which seems to have a very good source in the top level of the ATP Tour rankings) also reports that the USTA wants to pull any player who has a team member test positive for the coronavirus out of the event. The ATP, Marca wrote, has threatened to remove the points from the tournament if that happens. (Whether they can actually do that – even if the USTA’s agreements with the official broadcasters do not, technically, affect the ATP’s bottom line, we shall see).

Would the cancellation affect Rafael Nadal’s plans? The Mutua Madrid Open was the only tournament in which Nadal could bump up his ranking points, as he is the defending champion in both Rome and at Roland Garros and cannot add anything there.

His semifinal effort in 2019 earned him 360 points. Winning it could have replaced that 360 points with … 1,000 points.