The revival of tennis in the UK continues apace, with doubles returning to English recreational courts on Monday, Scotland’s clubs now open for business and a first exhibition tournament about to be announced for Britain’s leading women.
The Progress Tour Women’s Championships will be staged at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton – the same spectator-free venue that is to be used for Jamie Murray’s men-only “Battle of the Brits” later this month.
British No3 Harriet Dart is the highest-ranked player to enter so far. It’s understood that Johanna Konta does not want to participate, while Heather Watson – who won her fourth WTA title in Acapulco at the end of February – has featured on a promotional poster but is yet to confirm her involvement.
Barry Fulcher, a former touring pro who has been running money events around Britain for the last couple of seasons, is the organiser behind the PTWC. The event – which will be staged in the week beginning July 13 – has the blessing of the Lawn Tennis Association and is to involve 16 singles players as well as eight doubles teams, arranged in a group structure that should guarantee everyone several outings on the match court. The prize money pool is to be set at £30,000.
A week of match practice could be useful for Watson, who would be entitled to a main-draw spot at the US Open if the tournament goes ahead in New York – as looks increasingly likely – between Aug 31 and Sept 13.
With every passing week, the United States Tennis Association sounds more confident in staging this showpiece event behind closed doors. At the weekend, USTA chief executive Stacey Allaster said that their plans include charter flights for players and limited entourages, daily temperature checks and centralised housing.
Meanwhile Britain’s recreational players were allowed to graduate to doubles on Monday with partners from other households (with the exception of those in Wales, where the government continues to block the return of tennis pending the next lockdown review on June 18).
The permission arrived in the form of new guidelines suggesting that doubles partners make an advance agreement on who should take balls hit down the middle of the court, so as to avoid breaching social distancing.
The new guidelines also dropped the requirement for each player to have their own clearly marked tennis balls, although they added that “If you choose to use shared balls then extra care must be taken to ensure you do not touch your face during play, and you should clean your hands during play and immediately after finishing (use alcohol gel if required).”
Several coaches acknowledged that players would find it difficult to adhere to these rules, however good their intentions. For many tennis enthusiasts, though, the lure of the court is likely to outweigh any theoretical health concerns.