In tennis, grand slams at all costs



A wind of panic blew, Thursday, February 4, in Melbourne, where the Australian Open is due to open on Monday, February 8. Nothing to do with the smoke of the fires of last year which had raised fears of the interruption of the tournament. This time, it was the announcement of the Covid-19 contamination of an employee of one of the hotels that hosted the quarantine of the good thousand foreign speakers – players, coaches, journalists – that complicated everything.

A shortened ATP Cup?

This news led the organizers to suspend the current preparation tournaments, which had been imagined to allow players to take back their racquets in hand. A recovery was expected Friday, February 5, following the results of the tests on the players accommodated in the hotel in question. Under the probable condition of shortened or even canceled matches in certain categories. And above all, in order to preserve the essential: the Australian Open.

Last I heard Craig Tiley, director of the tournament and Tennis Australia, wanted to be reassuring. “We have no doubts that the Australian Open will take place. All players are expected to test negative. They are considered to be occasional contacts, these tests are an additional precaution to protect the local population ”, Said Thursday February 4 this former coach of South African origin.

” They do not have the choice “

Coué method or unwavering optimism on the part of a man who bears responsibility for the organization? “In reality he has no choice, you have to understand that this tournament is the most important sporting event in Oceania. The sponsors, the TVs are there, it is the future of our sport throughout Asia that is being played out ”, explains Lionel Maltese, lecturer in sports economics and member, until last October, of the economic commission of the French Tennis Federation.

Lionel Maltese had taken part in the unilateral decision, and not very popular in the sports world, to move the Roland-Garros tournament from May to September. “We knew we were going to get shot, he continues, but it was necessary to act quickly before others take the place because all the economy of our federation rests on this tournament. It’s the same in Australia or the United States: the profits of the fortnight provide a living for thousands of people, players, coaches, club staff. ” Even reduced by half due to the absence of spectators in the stands and of sponsors in the village, the revenues of Roland-Garros 2020 (130 million euros, instead of the usual 260) allow the Federation to limit the damage in clubs and to maintain the roofing project for the Suzanne-Lenglen stadium.

→ ANALYSIS. At Roland Garros, fifteen uncertainties

The whole tennis planet is therefore holding its breath in Australia, because the whole economy of this sport is based on the three Grand Slams, Australian, French and American, knowing that the fourth, Wimbledon is short apart (read below). “It’s vital for the federations, but also for the players. A presence in the first round of these four tournaments ensures the 200,000 dollars necessary to survive economically on the pro circuit, where you have to pay for transport, accommodation, the salary of your team members, etc. “, explains Jean-François Caujolle, boss of the Marseille Open.

Compensation for other tournaments

His tournament was postponed by one month (end of March) due to the change of date of the Australian Open, usually held in the second half of January. But he doesn’t hold a grudge. “Without stars, the spectators do not come. But these stars, we owe them to the grand slams ”, continues this former player who welcomes the financial compensation offered by Tennis Australia to postponed tournaments: 300,000 dollars, or 250,000 €.

Roland Garros had done the same last year, just like Wimbledon in 2016 when the London tournament was permanently postponed by a week. “They had helped the other grass tournaments, they are keen to maintain the economic sustainability of their surface, continues Jean-François Caujolle. Smaller tournaments are nothing without the four grand slams, but they still need a bit of tennis to be played outside of them. The exchange is not that imbalanced. “

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The Wimbledon exception

The Wimbledon tournament was the only grand slam tournament to be canceled last year. An exception linked to the governance of this competition, which does not belong to a federation like the other three, but to a private club, the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Released from any responsibility for the economic health and development of British tennis, the club benefits from an excellent cancellation insurance contract that other adults do not have.

The fragility of the surface and the vagaries of the London weather led him to cover himself against all risks. Including those of a pandemic or a… death of the queen who would stop the tournament (the royal family is an honorary member of the club and has a box in the stands). This contract made it possible to pay all qualified players automatically, because of their ranking, a bonus for a first round which never took place.

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