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March 27, 2020

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Time running out for Wimbledon

This year’s Wimbledon Championships has so far survived the cull of the world’s most prestigious sporting events due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, but it seems only a matter of time before they are postponed or canceled.

With London in its first week of lockdown, All England Lawn Tennis Club officials are weighing up their limited options.

The ‘build’ for the June 29-July 12 championships is supposed to start in little over a month but it seems increasingly likely Wimbledon will be forced to miss a year for the first time since 1945.

“The AELTC has been contingency planning since January, working closely with the UK government and public health authorities to follow their advice and understand the likely impact of COVID-19 and the government’s emergency measures on The Championships, and our thoughts are with all those affected by this crisis at this time,” the club said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Based on the advice we have received from the public health authorities, the very short window available to us to stage The Championships due to the nature of our surface suggests that postponement is not without significant risk and difficulty,” it added.

The AELTC said playing behind closed doors was not an option.

The Australian Open, the year’s first Grand Slam, was completed before the coronavirus crisis exploded to virtually shut down world sport, including the men’s ATP Tour and women’s WTA Tour.

The French Open last week made the decision to move the claycourt event to September 20-October 4 from its May start because of the outbreak — a unilateral move than angered some players.

The new date for Roland Garros is just one week after the US Open finishes and clashes with the Laver Cup, the popular exhibition team competition set up by Roger Federer and featuring top players from Europe and the rest of the world.

While the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics on Tuesday potentially opened a two-week slot in the calendar in July/August, it would appear unlikely Wimbledon would use it.

Switching to a later time in the year is even less likely as Wimbledon has only two covered courts and elite outdoor grasscourt tennis is not feasible past late summer.

Wimbledon said it is communicating closely with the LTA, and with the ATP, WTA, ITF and the other Grand Slams.

But a cancellation looks increasingly likely.

“The unprecedented challenge presented by the COVID-19 crisis continues to affect our way of life in ways that we could not have imagined,” AELTC chief executive Richard Lewis said.

“Our thoughts are with all those affected in the United Kingdom and around the world. The single most important consideration is one of public health, and we are determined to act responsibly through the decisions we make.”

Wimbledon, whose singles titles were won by Novak Djokovic and Simona Halep last year, is the crown jewel of the sport’s four Grand Slams.

But moving it deeper into the tennis calender might be tricky after the outcry over the unilateral French Open switch.

Pressure is growing on the AELTC to make a decision soon.

Given it takes two months to get the Wimbledon site ready for the event, a decision needs to be made soon and Lewis expects the call will be made at an emergency summit called for next week.

“We are working hard to bring certainty to our plans for 2020 and have convened an emergency meeting of the AELTC main board for next week, at which a decision will be made.”


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