World TeamTennis plans to stage season in front of limited fans

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World TeamTennis plans to become one of the first major North American sports organizations to return to live competition in front of spectators amid the global Covid-19 pandemic.

The mixed-gender professional tennis league intends to allow up to 500 spectators at each of its outdoor matches, representing about a 20 per cent venue capacity, during a three-week season from July 12 to August 2 at The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

Professional Bull Riders has already announced it plans to allow spectators for an event at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on July 10-12.

WTT is bringing all its nine teams to the neutral single-site venue to stage its 2020 season, an option being considered by numerous leagues such as the National Basketball Association and Major League Soccer.

The competition will mark the return of professional tennis globally, with the ATP and WTA Tours still on hiatus. WTT is not affiliated with the major men’s and women’s tours.

The event will comprise a 63-match regular season over 19 consecutive days, with the semifinals on August 1 and final on August 2. The top four teams will advance to the playoffs.

The schedule will include at least three matches per day at The Greenbrier’s 2,500-seat outdoor stadium, with an indoor court to be installed as a backup option. Various health and safety protocols will be observed.

Participating players are scheduled to include 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin (Philadelphia Freedoms), 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens (Chicago Smash), and leading United States men’s doubles team Bob and Mike Bryan (Vegas Rollers).

All games will be distributed on CBS, CBS Sports Network, Tennis Channel, and ESPN+. The main CBS broadcast network will air a regular season match on July 19 and the WTT Final on August 2, while CBS Sports Network on cable will carry 13 regular season matches and both semifinals on August 1.

The WTT also said it is increasing prize money to a record $5m, with an added $1m awarded in WTT Playoffs compensation.

“All of us at World TeamTennis are extremely grateful to be able to play the 45th World TeamTennis season and present professional tennis to our sports-starved and tennis-starved audiences through our media partners at CBS Sports, ESPN and Tennis Channel,” WTT chief executive Carlos Silva said in a statement.

“The overwhelming feedback from our players is that they want to play WTT and are comfortable in doing so in a safe environment, which is our number one priority. West Virginia has among the nation’s fewest cases of Covid-19 and I’m grateful to The Greenbrier, the city of White Sulphur Springs, and Dr. Jill Justice for being so welcoming and allowing World TeamTennis to play on in 2020,” Silva said.

In February, the WTT announced that the Chicago Smash will be the competition’s ninth franchise for the 2020 season.