Tennis doubles free to return - but players must still observe social distancing

Jeremy Wilson
Joe Salisbury of Great Britain and Rajeev Ram of the United States in action in the men's doubles final against Luke Saville and Max Purcell of Australia on day fourteen of the 2020 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on February 02, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia - Getty Images

Tennis players can resume doubles with people from outside of their own household and share tennis balls as part of a further England-only easing of the lockdown restrictions.

While the Welsh government is still not permitting any form of tennis and the Scottish government has only just allowed people from different households to play singles with individualised balls, the Lawn Tennis Association has further relaxed their guidelines for England.

Under the new guidance, which was published on Sunday and will apply from Monday, both singles and doubles tennis is now permitted with people from outside of your household.

The LTA say that two metre social distancing rules must still be applied “at all times”, although the new guidance does also add the caveat “as far as possible”.

Many will question how doubles can operate while being sure to maintain social distancing and, in their guidance, the LTA advise people to “consider agreeing in advance which player will take the shot if a ball travels to the centre of the court”.  

In another new piece of guidance, it is said that players do not now need to clearly mark their own tennis balls but, should they use shared balls, “extra care must be taken to ensure you do not touch your face during play, and you should clean your hands before play and immediately after finishing”.

In Scotland, the government has continued to insist upon individually marked tennis balls and playing doubles only with people from within your household.

Group coaching for up to six people is also now permitted in England and, although it is not recommended to share equipment, the guidance says rackets can be shared if they are cleaned thoroughly before and after use. 

In Scotland, tennis coaching is restricted to one-on-one sessions and players are told not to share any equipment, including rackets.

LTA Youth Box Leagues as well as internal club singles and doubles leagues and ladders in England can also now resume and there is a hope to again behind country and district leagues before the end of July.

The LTA said that the guidelines “have been developed in consultation with Government, with a set of practical guidelines put in place to help venues and coaches deliver small group coaching safely”. A key element in considerations is understood to have been evidence that the risk of catching coronavirus is significantly greater indoors than outdoors. Safety concerns have already been raised, however, while one tennis club - Tower Hamlets Tennis - immediately told members that it might take time to adapt to the latest guidelines. “Please be clear that organisations may need time to implement changes, we’ve only just settled hundreds of daily customers into the last set of guidelines,” they said.

The new tennis rules follow the Government’s wider easing of the lockdown to allow groups of six, from different households, to meet outdoors from Monday. This has also meant that small team sports can resume, as well as golf games of up to four people, provided that social distancing guidance is met.