(AP) — For the first time in its nearly century-and-a-half history, Wimbledon was canceled for a reason other than war, scrapped in 2020 on Wednesday because of the coronavirus pandemic.
With Britain under a nationwide lockdown, the All England Club announced its decision to call off its storied two-week grass-court tennis tournament, something that hadn’t happened to the sport’s oldest Grand Slam event in 75 years.
“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, “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.”
Wimbledon was scheduled to be played on the outskirts of London from June 29 to July 12. Instead, the next edition of the tournament will be June 28 to July 11, 2021.
Eight-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer surely spoke for many tennis players, officials and fans with a one-word message on Twitter: “Devastated.”
Also Wednesday, 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 new 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 now.
Wimbledon first was held in 1877 and has been contested every year since, with the exception of two stretches: from 1915-18 because of World War I, and from 1940-45 because of World War II.
Now the prestigious tournament — known for its carefully manicured grass, its Royal Box at Centre Court, its rules about wearing white, its strawberries and cream and, alas, its rain delays — 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.
Wimbledon is the first Grand Slam tournament wiped out because of the coronavirus; the start of the French Open was postponed from late May to late September.
Shortly after the news came from Wimbledon, the U.S. Tennis Association issued a statement saying it “still plans to host the U.S. Open as scheduled,” from Aug. 31 to Sept. 13 in New York.
As of now, the French Open is set to begin six days after the men’s final at Flushing Meadows, where a facility housing indoor practice courts is now a temporary 350-bed hospital and Louis Armstrong Stadium is being used to prepare 25,000 meal packages per day for patients, workers, volunteers and schoolchildren in the city.
Wednesday’s decision by the All England Club means Novak Djokovic and Simona Halep will not get a chance to defend their Wimbledon titles from 2019.
“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.”
Serena Williams retweeted the club’s message about the cancellation and wrote: “I’m Shooked.”
The move takes away what might have been one of Federer’s best chances to try to add to his men’s-record 20 Grand Slam titles. Federer, who turns 39 in August, is recovering from knee surgery and planned to return in time for the European grass-court circuit that now has been erased from the calendar.
In a statement last week, the All England Club said that postponing the two-week event would not come “without significant risk and difficulty” because of the grass surface that is affected by weather conditions. The club also said then that it had ruled out “playing behind closed doors” without spectators.
Hundreds of thousands of people have caught COVID-19 around the globe, and tens of thousands have died. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, which can include fever and cough, but also milder cases of pneumonia, sometimes requiring hospitalization.
The All England Club said it would work to help with the emergency response to the pandemic, including distributing medical equipment and food and offering the use of their facilities in other ways.
Regular day-to-day life has come to a halt in many ways in many parts of the world in recent weeks, and sports has reflected that.
The NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball are on hold indefinitely; the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500 were pushed back several months until September; England’s Premier League and other club soccer competitions are currently suspended; and the European soccer championship — scheduled to end in London on the same day as the Wimbledon men’s final — was postponed from 2020 to 2021.
“I have been fortunate to go to Wimbledon every year since 1961, and I am certainly going to miss it this year,” said Billie Jean King, who won a total of 20 trophies at the All England Club — six for singles, 10 for women’s doubles, four for mixed doubles. “Right now, we need to make sure we are taking good care of ourselves and our loved ones. These are challenging times for all of us and now is the time for us to do what is right for our world and what works for our sport.”