Tennis returns: No fans, line judges, ball kids or handshakes

It is a far cry from Roland Garros or Wimbledon, but professional tennis will return in Germany on Friday.

The first in a series of planned exhibition events will take place without spectators, line judges, ball kids or handshakes.

It is one of the first competitions between ATP players since professional tennis was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic on 12 March.

The Tennis-Point exhibition features eight players outside the world's top 100.

Dustin Brown - who beat Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon in 2015 - is in the field, along with the British number nine Jan Choinski.

"We have been pretty much redesigning the set-up of the tennis club," says Ruben Herrera, who is director of the Base Tennis Academy near Koblenz, which is hosting the event.

"But once the players are on the court, it's really pretty safe."

Herrera has made sure the players will not have to touch any door handles on the way to the court.

The players and the umpire will sit a little further apart than usual, and will acknowledge each other with their racquets rather than their hands.

The benches and the umpire's chair will be disinfected after every match. Masks and gloves are provided for everyone on site, but players will not use either during matches.

"You really have to be very cautious, and very detail oriented on how you provide this kind of exhibition for players," Herrera continues.

"We actually thought about playing with two sets of balls, but after reading the guidelines and seeing that professional players can play already [in Germany], and the [small] likelihood of people getting sick by touching the balls, we are changing them as normal."

The temperature of those on site will be monitored, but after seeking advice, it was decided not to carry out testing for Covid-19.

All of the players will receive appearance money, and then compete for a prize fund of 3,000 euros in a series of round-robin matches spread over four days.

Each of them lives within an hour and a half of the tennis club - including Choinski, who has a British mother and switched his allegiance from Germany at the end of 2018.

The 23-year-old says he is not worried about the risk of infection.

"No, no, not at all," he says.

"Tennis is not a contact sport like soccer. The strangest thing is maybe that we have so many cameras around, and not many people watching actually live on site."

The cameras will capture the action for Tennis Channel International, as well as for the sports data company Sportradar. It will be monitoring the integrity of the event, as players are still subject to the anti-corruption rules laid out by the Tennis Integrity Unit.

Choinski had an operation at the start of the year, and so has not competed professionally since playing in the Dominican Republic in December.

"Every penny is needed at the moment. I need to cover some expenses, so that's also an important aspect," he says.

"All the tennis players in the world, though maybe not [those] playing top 100, are struggling at the moment and not earning enough to just keep up with the costs of travel expenses and coaching.

"It's a very hard thing to keep yourself alive if you don't have the support of your family and people who really believe in you."

The Base Tennis Academy plans to hold further exhibition events over the two weekends to follow, and with the ATP, WTA and ITF tours suspended until at least 13 July, expect more entertainment along these lines.

Rafael Nadal is hoping to stage exhibition matches at his academy in Mallorca, while the Ultimate Tennis Showdown is scheduled to begin at the Mouratoglou Academy in Nice at the end of May.

The world number 10 David Goffin is among the players involved.

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