If World TeamTennis gets its way, Grand Slam champions Sofia Kenin and Sloane Stephens could be among the first tennis players to compete in front of fans after the coronavirus pandemic prompted lockdowns around the globe.

DOHA, QATAR – FEBRUARY 23: Sofia Kenin of USA speaks to the media during Day 1 of the WTA Qatar Total Open 2020 at Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex on February 23, 2020 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

WTT said Tuesday it is planning to allow up to 500 spectators at each of its outdoor matches during a three-week season from July 12 to Aug. 2 at a resort in West Virginia.

The league also announced an increase in total prize money to $5 million this year, $1.5 million more than for its 2019 season.

All tennis events sanctioned by the ATP, WTA, and International Tennis Federation are on hold until at least late July because of the COVID-19 outbreak. That includes the French Open, which was supposed to have started its 15-day main draw Sunday but was postponed until September, and Wimbledon, which was canceled outright for the first time in 75 years.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 20: Sloane Stephens of the United States plays a forehand during her Women’s Singles first round match against Shuai Zhang of China on day one of the 2020 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 20, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

But WTT is not affiliated with those tours — no ATP or WTA ranking points are available for its matches — and does not need to abide by their decisions about when it is OK to compete.

Because of the pandemic, World TeamTennis is bringing all nine of its teams to one site — The Greenbriar in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia — instead of having matches played around the United States.

And unlike smaller exhibition tennis events around the world that have been staged without any fans present, WTT intends to sell tickets for about one-sixth of a 3,000-seat outdoor stadium.

EVERETT, WASHINGTON – FEBRUARY 07: Sofia Kenin of the United States plays a forehand against Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia during the 2020 Fed Cup qualifier between USA and Latvia at Angel of the Winds Arena on February 07, 2020 in Everett, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

There also will be an indoor court set up in case it is needed; spectators will not be allowed to watch there.

WTT CEO Carlos Silva said in a recent interview he has been monitoring other sports events taking place to see how they handled health protocols, including UFC fights and NASCAR racing. Neither of those sports allowed spectators at their returns to action this month.

Among the players the WTT said will participate in its matches are Kenin, who won the Australian Open in January, before sanctioned tennis was suspended because of the virus in March; Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion and 2018 French Open runner-up; and twins Bob and Mike Bryan, who have won 16 Grand Slam titles in men’s doubles as a team.

© 2020 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Comments

Leave a Reply