World TeamTennis organisers are keen to share with other sports their experience of hosting a three-week tournament inside a bio-secure ‘bubble’ amid the COVID-19 pandemic, chief executive Carlos Silva told us.
The nine-team competition, co-founded by tennis great Billie Jean King in the 1970s, was one of the first live sports events in the United States to welcome fans since the outbreak when it ran at West Virginia’s Greenbrier Resort.
Multiple Grand Slam champions Venus Williams and Kim Clijsters took part and it all ended with a thrilling final on Sunday when the New York Empire beat the Chicago Smash on a winner-takes-all last point.
New York is set to host the U.S. Open and the Western & Southern Open later this month under similar protocols, although without spectators.
“I don’t know if we got a little lucky, I don’t know if we had perfect protocols, it was probably a combination of all of those things,” Silva, who took over as WTT CEO last year, said in an interview with us.
“And if there’s anything we can share with them or other sports organisations to try and help we’d love to do that because we obviously want tennis and the U.S. Open to happen.
“If there’s something we can do between now and then to get on a phone, get on Zoom, go there, we will open arms to try and help.”
World TeamTennis had about 150 people on site during the tournament and conducted more than 800 COVID-19 tests without a single positive result.
The final attracted the biggest TV audience in the league’s 45-year history but Silva said it had been by no means an easy ride to get there.
“It was a roller-coaster,” he said on a video call from the United States.
“Every day when you started to feel optimistic there were plenty of reasons to get down because things were opening, things were closing, things were cancelled. Not just tennis but every sport.
“I told my team it would probably take about a minute to cancel the season, I mean literally it’s one e-mail. I send it … I say ‘thank you’. And it’s over.”
The WTT’s protocols required players to submit a negative test for the virus before leaving their base, a second test on arrival at the resort and a third midway through the event.
The wearing of masks and social-distancing were mandatory with sanctions for breaching protocols severe — as American Danielle Collins found out when she was thrown out of the event after leaving the resort to go shopping.
Silva said the cooperation from players was vital for the ‘bubble’ to work.
“One little crack in the submarine and the water comes in,” he said.
“It’s not that complicated and everybody wanted to succeed. We did have to make some difficult decisions. That was the only way to do it.
“Everybody, as much as they might get grumpy for a moment, understood that the alternative is that a tournament gets cancelled.”