Wimbledon was canceled on Wednesday because of the coronavirus pandemic, and while the U.S. Open remains on track for its two-week run starting Aug. 31, the use of two major parts of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York City’s virus battle could have a significant impact on whether the Open could be played.
The indoor tennis facility in Flushing Meadows is being converted this week into a 350-bed hospital to help with the overflow from Elmhurst Hospital five minutes away. Louis Armstrong Stadium, the second-largest arena, will become a food preparation and distribution center. The plan is to prepare and distribute up to 25,000 packages of meals every day. Each package will consist of two days’ worth of breakfast, lunch and dinner for patients, workers and children.
“We are virtually all sitting at home watching TV and our hands are tied because there is nothing we can do,” National Tennis Center chief operating officer Danny Zausner said on Wednesday. “What we can do is help support the efforts going on out there.”
The question will be how long will the tennis center’s facilities be needed to provide support.
“If they are still operating the National Tennis Center as an overflow hospital for East Elmhurst Hospital in August, there is not a U.S. Open, for obvious reasons,” Zausner said.
Zausner says that while preparations are still being made to host the Open, there are more immediate concerns.
“We have spring and summer tennis programs here we operate from 6 a.m. to midnight, so we aren’t really thinking about the Open, we are thinking about what happens when the city is in a position to reopen for business,” Zausner said. “Nobody knows if we are at the beginning or middle of this thing. We know we aren’t at the end. When that does happen, they will be clearing out, sanitizing and getting us ready to reopen for business.”
There won’t be any business at Wimbledon until next year. It’s the first time since World War II that the oldest Grand Slam tennis tournament won’t be played.
After an emergency meeting, The All England Club announced that the event it refers to simply as The Championships is being scrapped for 2020.
Wimbledon was scheduled from June 29 to July 12. The dates next year are June 28 to July 11, 2021.
Wimbledon first was held in 1877 and was interrupted from 1915-18 because of World War I and from 1940-45 because of World War II.
“It has weighed heavily on our minds that the staging of The Championships has only been interrupted previously by world wars,” club chairman Ian Hewitt said in a press release, “but, following thorough and extensive consideration of all scenarios, we believe that it is a measure of this global crisis that it is ultimately the right decision to cancel this year’s Championships, and instead concentrate on how we can use the breadth of Wimbledon’s resources to help those in our local communities and beyond.”
Novak Djokovic and Simona Halep were the defending champions, with Djokovic having defeated Roger Federer in the final by fighting off two match points. Halep fashioned a surprisingly dominating two-set win over Serena Williams.
Federer, an eight-time champion, tweeted: “Devastated.”
Seven-time champion Williams retweeted the club’s message with the comment “I’m Shooked.”
“We are going through something bigger than tennis and Wimbledon will be back!” Halep wrote on social media. “And it means I have even longer to look forward to defending my title.”
On March 17 the French Open announced a postponement from its May 24 start date to the end of September, just two weeks after the U.S. Open is due to conclude. The decision, which appeared to have been largely unilateral, drew criticism from several parts of the tennis world.
Wimbledon joins the growing list of major sports events called off in 2020 because of the COVID-19 outbreak. That includes the Tokyo Olympics — which have been pushed back 12 months — and the NCAA men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments.
The ATP and WTA announced that the men’s and women’s professional tours would be suspended until at least July 13, bringing the number of elite tennis tournaments affected by the coronavirus since early March to more than 30. The top tours already had been on hold through June 7. Lower-level events on the Challenger Tour and ITF World Tennis Tour also are called off for the first two weeks of July.