London: Wimbledon organisers on Wednesday scrapped the oldest Grand Slam tennis tournament for the first time since World War II as the coronavirus wreaks further havoc on the global sporting calendar.
The cancellation of Wimbledon, the only grasscourt Major at the All England Club leaves the season in disarray, with no tennis due to be played until mid-July.
“Devastated,” tweeted eight-time champion Roger Federer, while Serena Williams, who has won the tournament seven times, said she was shocked by the momentous decision.
Wimbledon was due to run for two weeks from June 29, with Novak Djokovic and Simona Halep set to defend their singles titles. But tournament chiefs bowed to the inevitable on Wednesday. They said in a statement that they had made the decision with ‘great regret’. Djokovic had beaten Roger Federer in the 2019 final.
All England Club chairman Ian Hewitt said the decision had not been taken lightly. “It has weighed heavily on our minds that the staging of The Championships has only been interrupted previously by World Wars,” Hewitt said.
“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,” added Hewitt.
Halep tweeted her disappointment. “So sad to hear @Wimbledon won’t take place this year,” she said. “Last year’s final will forever be one of the happiest days of my life! But we are going through something bigger than tennis and Wimbledon will be back! And it means I have even longer to look forward to defending my title,” added the Romanian.
The decision to cancel Wimbledon was widely expected, with the world struggling to contain the spread of COVID-19, which has infected more than 8,40,000 people worldwide and killed over 43,000.
It also prompted the ATP and WTA to cancel the grasscourt swing in the build-up to Wimbledon, meaning the tennis season will not now recommence until July 13 at the earliest.
The US Tennis Association (USTA) responded by saying the US Open was still due to take place as planned, from August 31 to September 13.
“At this time the USTA still plans to host the US Open as scheduled, and we continue to hone plans to stage the tournament,” the USTA said in a statement.
Organisers had earlier ruled out playing Wimbledon behind closed doors and postponing the event would also have created its own problems, with shorter days later in the English summer.
Three-time Wimbledon champion Boris Becker had earlier Tuesday pleaded for tournament chiefs to wait longer before making a decision. “I really hope Wimbledon will wait until the end of April for decision!” he had tweeted. “The tourney is first week of July… patience is a virtue,” Becker added.
But former women’s World No.1 Amelie Mauresmo, the 2006 women’s champion, said the 2020 season would probably need to be scrapped.
The cancellation of Wimbledon could mean multiple champions Roger Federer, Serena Williams and Venus Williams have played at the All England Club for the final time. Federer and Serena will be nearly 40 by the time of the 2021 championships and Venus will be 41.
Serena, beaten in last year’s final by Halep, is stuck on 23 Grand Slam singles titles – agonisingly one away from equalling Margaret Court’s record.