LONDON: The Wimbledon tennis championships were cancelled for the first time since World War Two as the coronavirus pandemic wiped another blue-riband sports event off the calendar on Wednesday.

While the decision had looked inevitable for some time, since the virtual shutdown of world sport and the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics, Wimbledon had been one of the few events not to have been officially cancelled or postponed.

But after emergency talks between the various stakeholders over the last few days, the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) announced that it was impossible for the grasscourt Grand Slam, scheduled for June 29-July 12, to take place.

“It is with great regret that the main board of the All England Club and the committee of management of the championships have today decided that The Championships 2020 will be cancelled due to public health concerns linked to the coronavirus epidemic,” the AELTC said in a statement. “The 134th Championships will instead be staged from June 28 to July 11, 2021.”

The men’s ATP Tour and women’s WTA Tour are already suspended until at least June 7 but it looks extremely unlikely that any professional tennis will be possible throughout the summer as the pandemic worsens in Europe and the US.

Britain’s death toll from the virus reached 2,352 on Wednesday, according to NHS figures.

The French Open, originally due to be held from May 24-June 7 has been postponed and controversially rescheduled by the French tennis federation for Sept 20-Oct 4, shortly after the end of the US Open.

Former Wimbledon champion Amelie Mauresmo doubts whether either tournament will be played though.

“I think we’re going to have to draw a line under the 2020 tennis season,” Mauresmo said on Twitter this week. “International circuit players of all nationalities plus management, spectators and people from the 4 corners of the world who bring these events to life. No vaccine, no tennis.”

Unlike the French Open which is played on clay, Wimbledon’s scope for re-arranging the start date was extremely limited.

While Centre Court and Court One boast a roof, playing elite level tennis outside on grass would have been extremely challenging in late summer or autumn with a lack of light and problems caused by dew forming on the surface late in the day.

Shortening the format of the tournament, or playing behind closed doors, would also have proved extremely unpopular with the players.

Wimbledon has been held every year since 1946 after a six-year hiatus because the country was at war.

Published in Dawn, April 2nd, 2020

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