Richard Lewis, the outgoing chief executive of Wimbledon, hopes tennis can be “off and running again” by August, when the US Open is scheduled to begin, although he admits there may be “no more tennis this year”.
Speaking the day after the All England Club finally cancelled the championships for the first time since the second world war, Lewis acknowledged that uncertainty has gripped tennis because of the continued spread of coronavirus.
“Who knows what will happen over that period?” he said on Thursday of the summer to come. “It’s a challenge for everybody. Let’s hope the US Open and Roland Garros [rescheduled to start a week after the conclusion of the US Open] can take place. It would be genuinely wonderful if the sport was off and running again.
“The optimist in me – and I am often not optimistic – still hopes the American hardcourt season, the big tournaments, the Masters and the Premiers, will take place: Montreal, Toronto and then Cincinnati. But we all know that’s probably tenuous at the moment.
“I don’t think it’s unrealistic to say that there may be no more tennis this year. But I would like to think that things will settle down so that tournaments can be played sooner rather than later.”
Lewis, who quits at the end of July after running the tournament for eight years to make way for Sally Bolton, also hopes the former champions Roger Federer and Serena Williams, who hold 15 Wimbledon titles between them, can play when the championships resume in the summer of 2021.
“We’d love to see both of them back. It’s something to look forward to, and we’ll hopefully enjoy it all the more, a silver lining to come out of it.”
When news broke that the 134th edition of the championships would have to be abandoned, the former British No 1 Annabel Croft described the dilemma for Federer and Williams as “a nightmare”. The Swiss, recovering from knee surgery, is on a record 20 majors, one ahead of Rafael Nadal and three in front of Novak Djokovic, while Williams remains one short of Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 grand slam titles. Their chances of returning to the game after an extended absence at 38 depend on their fitness and continued enthusiasm.
Also unknown is how much of a hole cancellation will put in an estimated £250m revenue at Wimbledon. “We’re fortunate to have the insurance and it helps,” Lewis said. “The insurers, the brokers and everybody involved have been excellent to work with so far, but there’s still a lot of work to do.” He said the annual windfall from that goes to the Lawn Tennis Association, estimated at more than £40m, should be safe. “The insurance will help protect the surplus to a large extent. the details and the figure probably won’t be known for months.”
These are all daunting challenges for Bolton, the first woman to hold the club’s chief executive job, although Nora Cleather was the acting secretary during the war. The surreal atmosphere and circumstances in the year of the virus might well feel like those of 1939-45 for Bolton, a widely respected sports administrator for more than 25 years, having worked in both rugby codes, athletics and as head of corporate affairs at the All England Club since 2016.