During this unprecedented time of the COVID-19 global pandemic, with its required public health guidelines, professional and amateur tennis players and fans around the world have been forced to step away from playing and watching the game in traditional venues.
ITF, ATP and WTA Tour schedules have been impacted severely so far in 2020, as has USTA League and tournament play, to the disappointment of many.
So, how can tennis thrive at a time like this? Well, unprecedented times call for unprecedented actions. And, that’s exactly what happened a few months ago when 2020 Mutua Madrid Open organizers, faced with the reality of cancellation due to COVID-19, decided to replace their traditional, live tournament with an innovative, online replica format.
In April 2020, a first-ever, four-day Mutua Madrid Open Virtual Pro event, with more than 20 corporate sponsors, was live-streamed via Facebook to fans around the world. 32 of the ATP’s and WTA’s biggest stars, like Rafa Nadal, Andy Murray, John Isner, Madison Keys, Belinda Bincic and Victoria Azarenka, used games consoles to compete against each other in a virtual “Caja Mágica” (Manolo Santana Stadium) that was recreated within the videogame, Tennis World Tour. Andy Murray and Kiki Bertens were the inaugural men’s and women’s champions, respectively.
Simultaneous to the Virtual Pro matches played by the ATP and WTA pros, an online charity tournament featuring some of today’s hottest online social media influencers and gamers, such as @DjMaRiiO and @aLexBY11, was held, with a portion of the funds raised being distributed to the Madrid Food Bank to help stem social suffering during the COVID-19 crisis.
Besides quenching fans’ thirst to watch professional tennis matches being played during COVID-19 quarantine, the inaugural Virtual Pro event helped extend and grow the global tennis community by introducing many tennis fans to the eSports arena.
What about you? Have you ever played tennis online? If not, you may want to give it a try.
I, for one, think acquiring e-tennis games like Tennis World Tour or Top Spin 4, is one easy way that we can keep our competitive juices flowing and love for the game going during any offseason, pandemic or not.