Wimbledon has been canceled only during World Wars I and II, and the club admitted in a pessimistic statement that moving the grass-court event later in the year “is not without significant risk and difficulty.”
“The AELTC has been contingency planning since January, working closely with the UK government and public health authorities to follow their advice and understand the likely impact of covid-19 and the government’s emergency measures on The Championships, and our thoughts are with all those affected by this crisis at this time,” the club said.
“Based on the advice we have received from the public health authorities, the very short window available to us to stage The Championships due to the nature of our surface suggests that postponement is not without significant risk and difficulty.”
Wimbledon is the third of tennis’s four Grand Slams. The Australian Open was held in January, before the virus took hold, and the French Open, the second Slam event, was moved from May to Sept. 20-Oct. 4. That comes hard on the heels of the U.S. Open, the year’s final Slam that runs Aug. 31-Sept. 13. Last week, U.S. Open organizers announced that “we are not implementing any changes to the 2020 U.S. Open” but acknowledged “that circumstances surrounding the covid-19 virus are rapidly changing.”
The compressed schedule would present a challenge for players, who would have to play on New York’s hard courts, then France’s clay courts, with Wimbledon’s grass-court tournaments either preceding or following those two Slams.
The three tournaments typically stretch over four months. Both the Association of Tennis Professionals and the Women’s Tennis Association suspended events until June 7, which would leave precious little time to prepare for Wimbledon’s grass courts. In addition, the grass courts at All England Club, Wimbledon Park Golf Club and Raynes Park are closed, with only maintenance and security personnel on site.
Although the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics opened a two-week slot from late July through early August, it seemed unlikely that Wimbledon would consider it, and moving the tournament later in the year is unlikely as well. The club has only two covered courts, and weather makes a later date even more unlikely.
“The single most important consideration is one of public health,” said Richard Lewis, the club’s chief executive, “and we are determined to act responsibly through the decisions we make.”
The people who schedule major events across all of sports are eyeing the summer calendar and jockeying for position, hoping to pulled off a jam-packed fall sports calendar if the coronavirus is under control.