INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – The WTA and ATP Tours don’t get together on much.
But after weeks of bulletins to players advising them to watch their hands thoroughly and use Clorox wipes on everything, the Tours have agreed on a series of initiatives that will begin next week at the BNP Paribas Open.
These are practical matters that will try to minimize some of the possible ways players, fans, ball kids and officials can come into contact with each other during matches.
The biggest thing? The player towels.
No longer will the players ask the ball kids for the towel between points or on changes of ends, or give them to the ball kids to tuck away.
They will have to handle their own towels. It’s an initiative that, to be honest, should have been implemented long ago.
The ball kids will be instructed not to handle the towels.
As a side consequence of that, the 25-second period between points will NOT change. However, per the note sent to the players, “A more lenient approach of starting the shot clock should be used.”
In other words, we’re back to square one with the 25-second theoretical notion. But at least it’s for a good cause.
The players will also fetch their own drinks and ice towels from individual coolers.
Towel hooks/racks and gloves
We saw some of this at the Davis Cup tie in Japan Thursday night – ball kids wearing gloves, and bringing the towels to the players in a box.
At Indian Wells and going forward (there was no word on how long these measures would be implemented), tournaments will quickly need to install towel hooks at “Tour-approved locations” on courts.
And not just one hook – at least four hooks.
According to the Tours, each player will have a towel at each of the four corners of the court, as well as at the player bench. The racks will have each player’s name on it.
For a doubles match, that sounds like … eight racks. (This doesn’t make a ton of sense, to be honest).
If we’re talking about the Bryans, the Kichenoks or even the Lopezs (Feliciano and Marc), hopefully first names will sometimes be included.
(That’s what the official memo says; the Indian Wells note says that a chair will be placed at the back of the court for the player(s) to hang their towel on. So, already, there are some gaps in the communication. We’ll see exactly how it all shakes out here).
Indian Wells offering refunds
Obviously, the rather … seasoned demographic at the BNP Paribas Open means there’s a large percentage of the fans who are among the more vulnerable for the Corona virus.
As a result, the tournament had already announced that anyone who bought their tickets directly from the tournament site can request a full refund – or a credit for next year’s event.
The tournament also announced that “more than 250 hand sanitizing stations have been placed throughout the facility.” We haven’t seen any yet, but we’ll head out on a search later today.
Restaurant and food supply workers will wear gloves (they should ALREADY Be wearing gloves, right?). Also, the ticket takers will wear gloves.
All common areas throughout the Indian Wells Tennis Garden “will be cleaned daily with an antiviral application”.
The tournament also is coordinating with area hospitals to get anyone displaying symptoms of the virus tested.
No freebies from the players
The post-match fan experience is going to be significantly altered.
The players will be instructed not to throw the souvenirs the fans beg for – sometimes even demand – into the crowd after matches. We’re talking headbands, wristbands, even the prized used towels into the stands.
The players will also be told to avoid grabbing Sharpies from the fans to sign things courtside, and bring their own.
Some players already do that. But others just grab one from a fan, sign a few things, and then throw it back to the fan who lent it to them. The tournaments will also be asked to have some on hand.
It’s likely that a lot of the fans won’t be aware of all of this. Which – at least until word gets around – means that the players are the ones who are going to have to be the bad guys.
During the walk-ons, which at some tournaments involve the players holding hands with a little buddy – there will no longer be any hand holding.
And the Indian Wells tournament announced that “planned interactions between players and fans will be limited”. Which you would think to mean autographs sessions and that sort of thing.
The pre-match instructions will take awhile
We’re remembering a previous edition of the Indian Wells Challenger, where the ballkids were told not to handle the player towels.
It got a little complicated, as old habits are hard to break. A couple of players even complained about it.
If anyone complains about these safety/hygiene measures, they probably won’t get all that great a reception.
“Further actions are being considered and evaluated on a daily basis in order to continue to ensure the safety of everyone associated with the event. The 2020 BNP Paribas Open is scheduled to proceed as planned,” is the release from the tournament.
Costly, and changeable
All of these initiatives will involve additional costs, of course.
But the key word is “scheduled”. With the state of California declaring a state of emergency because of the virus, there’s no way to know if any further decrees will be issued concerning events that involve large gatherings of people.
Tennis tournaments are especially had to control, because not only are the players coming in from all over the world, the fans are too.
It’s a day-to-day situation, no doubt.
Already, the SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas that is held the second week of Indian Wells, has been cancelled.
It’s a festival that, according to the Verge, brought more than $350 million in revenue to the city of Austin last year, its 33rd edition.
From the sound of it, it’s pretty clear that the organizers were 1) reluctant to cancel it but had no choice, given the city’s directives and 2) are scrambling to find wayt to somehow reschedule it, so as not to have to refund everyone’s money.
You can understand it, with the massive organizational costs involved.
What we don’t know at this point is what big event will be next.