(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) – Wimbledon, one of the centrepieces of the British summer sporting calendar, has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the All England Club confirmed yesterday. It will be the first time the tournament has not be held since the second world war.
The Championships were scheduled to run from 29 June until 12 July but as tennis officials prepared for emergency talks this week cancellation swiftly became unavoidable. Unlike one-day sporting events, Wimbledon functions more like a festival, held over two weeks in a vast complex with some 40 tournament and practice courts occupied by competitors and staff throughout the tournament.
Wimbledon requires at least two months of pre-event preparation, which would be incompatible with the government-mandated lockdown and guidance on social distancing.
Attention focused on the two most successful players at Wimbledon, Roger Federer and Serena Williams, both finalists in 2019. Both 38 years old, they will not have many more opportunities to win another Wimbledon.
“I’m Shooked [sic],” posted Williams. “Devastated,” tweeted the eight-times Wimbledon singles winner Federer, adding: “I can’t wait to come back next year. It only makes us appreciate our sport even more during these times.”
The All England Club chairman, Ian Hewitt, said: “This is a decision that we have not taken lightly, and we have done so with the highest regard for public health and the wellbeing of all those who come together to make Wimbledon happen.”
After January’s Australian Open and the French Open in May, Wimbledon traditionally marks the third major in the tennis calendar. Last month, the French Tennis Federation shifted Roland Garros from its planned 24 May start to 20 September, just a week after the US Open ends on 13 September. As grass is only a viable playing surface in spring and summer, postponement was not a realistic option for Wimbledon.
In coordination with Wimbledon’s announcement, the ATP, WTA and ITF tours announced that professional tennis would not return before 13 July after the cancellation of the other summer grass-court events. The tour has been suspended since Indian Wells was cancelled on 9 March.
“While in some ways this has been a challenging decision, we strongly believe it is not only in the best interests of society at this time, but also provides certainty to our colleagues in international tennis given the impact on the grass-court events in the UK and in Europe and the broader tennis calendar,” said the All England Club’s chief executive Richard Lewis.
Beyond the practical sporting repercussions of Wimbledon becoming the first cancelled slam event so far, it is also a reflection of the continued decimation of summer entertainment. Wimbledon has always stood as a curiosity in the world of tennis. It is as much an annual fixture in the summer London social calendar as it is a sporting event. In 2019, aggregate attendance over the fortnight was 500,397 . They came from all corners of the globe, many attended as much for the experience of tasting strawberries and cream and being seen as much as seeing the tennis itself.
While most other tennis tournaments have attempted to modernise and adapt for a new generation of fans, Wimbledon continues to tip its hat towards tennis’s traditional country club base wherever possible and each year it is dotted with spectators who arrive dressed in formal suits and gowns, topped off with elaborate hats. They will have to wait another year.