Staging the Wuhan Open later this year would send a powerful message about the city’s recovery from COVID-19 and have an effect that stretches beyond tennis, the tournament’s codirector told reporters.
The central Chinese city was the original epicenter of the pandemic and nearly 4,000 people died from the disease there before it spread worldwide.
However, the annual Wuhan Open is now pencilled in for Oct. 19 to 25 after the WTA this week released its provisional calendar for the rest of the year.
The schedule “is conditioned on several key factors,” including player safety, government approvals and relaxation of travel restrictions, the WTA said.
At present, most foreign nationals are barred from entering China.
Wuhan Open codirector Brenda Perry told reporters that the tournament would not go ahead if overseas players could not come, and that a final decision would be made around early August.
“I’m thrilled for all my colleagues and friends in Wuhan, and what this will mean to the city and the people of the city,” Perry said. “It’s hugely symbolic of overcoming a hugely challenging moment.”
“They went through what seemed to me one of the most stringent lockdowns in the world,” the 62-year-old said by telephone from Auckland. “To come through that and then hold an international professional tennis event would be amazing for morale and show the world the great job they’ve done on recovery.”
Last year’s Wuhan Open had a nearly US$3 million prize fund and a high-quality field, with world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty losing in the semi-finals to eventual champion Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.
However, just a few months later the city’s 11 million people were subjected to a harsh lockdown that lasted 76 days and put it in the global spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
Perry, a former New Zealand No. 1, said she hopes that staging the tournament for a seventh year can help change perceptions.
It is understandable that some players might have reservations about signing up for the tournament, even though Wuhan is now largely back to normal, Perry added.
“We probably need to educate, to be honest, what the reality is in Wuhan compared with other cities around the world,” said Perry, who gave assurances that Wuhan’s tough anti-virus measures have made it a safe place to visit.
“They’ve followed such a stringent lockdown and the recovery process has been so cautious, and they still have so many protocols in place,” Perry said. “I would be the very first person to put up my hand if I thought it was not safe to be going there.”
Like other WTA tournaments when the virus-stricken season resumes, starting at Italy’s Palermo on Aug. 3, Wuhan would have no spectators under current guidelines.
Significant hurdles still lie ahead if Wuhan is to see tennis in October.
China has experienced a fresh outbreak of infections in Beijing and on Thursday, the ATP Japan Open scheduled for October was canceled over fears of a second wave.
As part of measures to prevent imported coronavirus cases, China has indefinitely closed its borders to most foreigners.
International air travel is also badly disrupted.
For all tournaments, from Wuhan to Roland Garros and the US Open, officials are keeping their fingers crossed.
“The tournament is four months from now and if you think back four months, to February, and what has changed and happened for better and worse round the world,” Perry said. “Four months is still a long time for things to change and know what’s going to happen.”
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