Tennis

Will the coronavirus pandemic derail Federer's farewell tour?

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Roger Federer

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ByEnis Koylu
26/05/2020 at 09:56 | Updated 26/05/2020 at 10:56

As domestic sports take tentative steps towards restarting after the coronavirus crisis, professional tennis faces a particular set of challenges, which leaves the farewell plans of one of its greatest ever stars in serious doubt.

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The issues the ATP and WTA face in getting their respective tours rolling again are numerous. Featuring players from every continent and tournaments in every continent, each player will be experiencing a different level of pandemic and be facing different travel restrictions. Some tournaments will not be able to go ahead, even those which could theoretically happen will have no level of competitive credibility, with some players inevitably unable to take part due to travel restrictions in their own country.

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While we are starting to see some top players return to action in non-competitive tournaments which require little or no travel, the logistical difficulties in getting the ATP and WTA tours back up and running are extreme.

The result is a calendar left in tatters. Wimbledon has been cancelled for the first time since London was being bombed by the Luftwaffe; and the French Open was unilaterally moved to September, prompting a furious and united response from several other governing bodies.

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The sport is currently scheduled to restart in July, after Wimbledon's original slot, but with the USA still very much in the grip of the virus, the chances of the US Open Series taking place as planned seem remote, even if it has been confirmed that tennis players will be exempt from national quarantine rules. New York City, the epicentre of America's outbreak, remains due to play host to the US Open over August and September.

But Craig Tiley, the CEO of Tennis Australia, says there is simply no guarantee that his event will be able to take place in 2021, such are the logistical difficulties of hosting competitive tournaments with their integrity intact.

It all leaves Federer, arguably the sport's biggest star, at something of a crossroads. While he has always insisted that he has no intention of retiring in the near future, it had been rumoured that 2020 would be his farewell year. He had the obvious goal of winning an Olympic gold medal in singles, but Tokyo 2020, unsurprisingly, fell victim to the virus. There was also the question of one final Wimbledon to cap an incredible career and extend his record at SW19.

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The 38-year-old himself has no idea what the future holds, but he is not optimistic of a restart imminently, saying: "I still believe that the return of the tour is a long way off."

And furthermore, he is not eager to see showpiece tournaments played without fans. "I can't see an empty stadium. I cannot. I hope that doesn't happen."

While some professional tennis tournaments in far-flung countries organised primarily for sponsors are played with few fans present, Federer is correct in saying the biggest events would be far poorer spectacles without supporters present.

There is no word on when sport can resume in front of fans. The Dutch government have already said that the Eredivisie, the country's top football division cannot return with crowds in their rightful place until a vaccine has been found and different countries taking vastly different measures as they look to reopen.

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But while Federer's achievements on the court may yet be overtaken by Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, his two contemporary rivals, they will never be able to match the extent to which the Swiss has captured the public imagination. Federer transcends the sport in the way that few others have managed and fans are just as integral to his story as the numerous tournaments he has won.

If Federer is planning a farewell tour, he deserves to say goodbye to his legions of supporters, and they deserve to say goodbye to him.

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