From masks, racket bumps, poplar tree fluff everywhere and the prospect of a final played at the press center, Prague’s first post-lockdown tennis tournament offered a plethora of bizarre moments.
The three-day Czech Tennis President’s Cup, pitting eight women and eight men, which ended on Thursday, was played under tight health protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“The gloves, masks, the fact nobody handed us the towels, no handshakes, that was definitely bizarre,” two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova said after winning the women’s event.
“And playing without people, the atmosphere was not exactly what we are used to,” added the 30-year-old world No. 12, who beat Karolina Muchova 6-3, 6-3 in a final disrupted by rain.
The showers even made organizers contemplate moving the final to a nearby hall comprising two courts right next to each other — one ready for the match and the other serving as the press center.
The event was held behind closed doors, with a handful of spectators demoted to spots behind the fence where they struggled to observe social distancing regulations.
On the court, the line judges had to wear masks, just like the ball boys and girls, who also wore gloves to prevent contamination.
Throughout the tournament, the players wore masks all the way to the court.
“I guess this was the most bizarre thing, wearing the masks, and that you can’t shake hands with the opponent and the umpire,” said losing semi-finalist Barbora Strycova, the women’s doubles world No. 2 and partner of Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei.
Instead of handshakes, the players merely bumped their rackets at the net.
“We both laughed about it. It was my first ‘racket shake’ and it was weird,” Muchova said after her first-round match.
“The strangest thing was having no stands with people around us, nobody cheered, we only waved at the referees,” the world No. 26 added.
Throughout the tournament, and particularly during the windy, cloudy final, players struggled with poplar fluff from a nearby park on Prague’s northern outskirts.
“When it gets in your eyelashes, in your eye or — heaven forbid — in your mouth, it’s unpleasant,” Kvitova said.
However, despite the hardships, all of the players praised the opportunity to return to the court after a long break from the sport.
“Given the circumstances and the pandemic, it was a wonderful tournament,” Kvitova said. “It’s great that something’s happening again. I hope this will mark the beginning of a return to normal for the tennis world.”
“It was great to be back,” Muchova said. “I played against players whom I could meet in the semi-finals of a Grand Slam. We played great games.”
Michael Vrbensky, the 20-year-old, 405th-ranked winner of the men’s event, who saw off top seed Jiri Vesely in the first round, was euphoric.
“It did feel like a tournament. There were more people here than at the Challengers I play and it was the first time in my life I played before cameras,” Vrbensky said. “That’s another great experience for me.”
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