Fans welcomed to World TeamTennis matches in West Virginia

AP Photo

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Tennys Sandgren celebrated a game-clinching point in pandemic-appropriate fashion, retrieving the ball himself in the absence of ball kids, and exchanging an awkward fist-to-elbow bump with a teammate as the World TeamTennis season started before mask-wearing fans on Sunday.

WTT’s nine teams have come together at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia for their three-week season. Matches normally are played at various sites around the country but everyone was brought to one location because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sandgren, for one, was happy to be at The Greenbrier, and not just for the tennis.

“You know what it’s been like the last four months,” he said. “You’ve been sitting in your house the whole damn time. I get to do it in a beautiful setting now. It’s fantastic. There’s lots of stuff to do.”

For Sandgren, that includes playing golf and hanging out at the pool.

“It’s been pretty chill,” he said.

Tennis became one of the few professional sports to welcome fans back so far during the pandemic. An indoor bull riding event was held Friday in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, as well as a weekend IndyCar doubleheader with limited spectators at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

“It was awesome to have some people out there to get behind the tennis,” Sandgren said. “It made hitting good shots a little more fun.”

Last month, top-ranked Novak Djokovic played in a series of exhibition matches he organized in Serbia and Croatia with fans in the stands and zero social distancing amid the pandemic. He later announced that both he and his wife had tested positive for the virus and apologized for contributing to its spread.

The WTT season started just as confirmed coronavirus cases were soaring nationally. In West Virginia alone, positive cases have doubled in the past month, including dozens of cases and three deaths linked to a church not far from the resort.

There were strict measures in place at the matches to ensure health and safety. Anyone who wasn’t a competing athlete wore a mask inside the tennis stadium and fans had their temperatures checked prior to entering. Staggered rows of seats were covered to allow for social distancing.

Up to 500 spectators are being allowed at each of the outdoor matches at the 2,500-seat court, although there were far fewer than 500 in attendance at the opening match. If rain forces play indoors, the maximum capacity will be reduced to 250.

On the court, the chair umpire was helped by electronic line calling instead of line judges. There were no ball kids. The athletes chased down loose balls and tossed them to the serving player. When matches ended, opponents touched tennis rackets – no high-fives or handshakes.

“If it’s safe for the people to get out and experience the tennis live, I’m all for it,” Orlando Storm coach Jay Gooding said. “It’s exciting for us. I think the tennis public in general has something to look forward to.”

Lisa Pace of Raleigh, North Carolina, and her 18-year-old son, Jackson, already were on a repeat vacation to the resort and decided to stay an extra day to take in the WTT’s opening matches. Jackson Pace played on his high school tennis team, and they weren’t apprehensive about being among dozens of people at a public event, albeit outdoors.

“We both play tennis and we love watching it on TV,” Lisa Pace said. “We just wanted to take advantage.”

She was especially eager to see 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens and Sandgren, who reached the quarterfinals of this year’s Australian Open.

Sandgren, who plays for the Storm, won Sunday’s opening match in men’s singles against Mitchell Krueger of the two-time defending champion Springfield Lasers. Sandgren later won matches in men’s doubles with James Ward and mixed doubles with Jessica Pegula.

Besides Stephens, other Grand Slam champions playing at the Greenbrier are Venus Williams, Kim Clijsters, Sofia Kenin and twins Bob and Mike Bryan, who have won 16 Grand Slam doubles titles together.

Players who test positive for the coronavirus during the season will be removed from the league, quarantined and paid only for matches already completed. The pandemic has put a hold on all tennis events sanctioned by the ATP, WTA and International Tennis Federation. WTT is not affiliated with those tours.

The WTT venue is the crown jewel for the Greenbrier’s tennis facility, which was built in 2015. A year later, it was covered in mud after a devastating flood that killed 15 people in the surrounding county.

The resort dates to 1778 and has a 700-room hotel, has hosted presidents and royalty and held a once-secret underground bunker built for Congress in case of nuclear attack during the Cold War.

“For me, the three weeks here is completely fine,” Gooding said.

Gael Monfils withdraws from French Open with wrist injury

Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

PARIS — A thrilling five-set victory took a toll on Gael Monfils, whose withdrawal from the French Open handed No. 6 Holger Rune a walkover to the third round.

The 36-year-old Frenchman said he has a strained left wrist and can’t continue.

He battled Sebastian Baez for nearly four hours on Court Philippe Chatrier before beating the Argentine 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 1-6, 7-5 in a first-round match that ended at 12:18 a.m. local time.

The victory was Monfils’ first at tour level this year, as the veteran was coming back from heel surgery.

“Actually, physically, I’m quite fine. But I had the problem with my wrist that I cannot solve,” he said. “The doctor say was not good to play with that type of injury. Yesterday was actually very risky, and then today definitely say I should stop.”

Monfils reached the semifinals at the French Open in 2008 and made it to the quarterfinals on three other occasions.

Mikael Ymer fined about $40K after default for hitting umpire stand with racket

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

PARIS — Swedish tennis player Mikael Ymer was docked about $40,000 after being disqualified for smashing his racket against the umpire’s chair at a tournament the week before he competed at the French Open.

An ATP Tour spokesman said Ymer forfeited about $10,500 in prize money and 20 rankings he earned for reaching the second round of the Lyon Open. Ymer also was handed an on-site fine of about $29,000.

The spokesman said the ATP Fines Committee will conduct a review of what happened to determine whether any additional penalties are warranted.

The 56th-ranked Ymer, who is 24 and owns a victory over current No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz, was defaulted in Lyon for an outburst late in the first set against French teenager Arthur Fils last week.

Ymer was upset that the chair umpire would not check a ball mark after a shot by Fils landed near a line. As the players went to the sideline for the ensuing changeover, Ymer smacked the base of the umpire’s stand with his racket twice – destroying his equipment and damaging the chair.

That led to Ymer’s disqualification, making Fils the winner of the match.

After his 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 loss to 17th-seeded Lorenzo Musetti in the first round at Roland Garros, Ymer was asked whether he wanted to explain why he reacted the way he did in Lyon.

“With all due respect, I think it’s pretty clear from the video what caused it and why I reacted the way I reacted. Not justifying it at all, of course,” Ymer replied. “But for me to sit here and to explain? I think it’s pretty clear what led me to that place. I think that’s pretty clear in the video.”