Virus does a number on tennis season

Manitoba Open among tennis tournaments cancelled

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Tennis was the envy of the local sports scene back in early May.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/08/2020 (838 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Tennis was the envy of the local sports scene back in early May.

After weeks of being told to hibernate, Manitobans were allowed to enjoy tennis as local courts, in addition to golf courses, were among the few sporting locales given the green light in the provincial government’s first phase of a reopening plan. The reasoning was that tennis and golf are sports in which physical distancing rules can be easily followed.

Most other sports had no clear timetable to return.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS "It's protection for members, guests and our staff as well. We don't want to put our staff into any type of jeopardy," David Scrapneck said.

While golf has been able to take full advantage and run competitive tournaments throughout the summer without a hitch, the same can’t be said for tennis. Tennis Manitoba has had to scratch nearly a dozen events off the calendar this summer, with the biggest one being the Manitoba Open, which was originally scheduled to start this week at Kildonan Tennis Club.

“We were ready to go May 4. We were one of the first sports open for business. We were happy to do that as it’s a safe, physical, socially distanced sport,” said Tennis Manitoba executive director Mark Arndt.

“We had our guidelines. A four-phase approach to getting back to playing and the fourth one was business as usual. We’ve kind of stalled between three and four, as it’s not business as usual.

“The consensus from all the clubs was to not host tournaments. Predominantly, they just didn’t want outsiders coming into their, so to speak, bubble and I can’t fault them for that.”

David Scrapneck is the president of the Kildonan Tennis Club, a main host of the Manitoba Open for nearly 30 years. It’s the premier tennis event in the province, but Scrapneck said unlike golf, there’s no way to have so many people at a facility and follow all safety protocols. The Manitoba Open averages around 100 players.

“It’s protection for members, guests and our staff as well. We don’t want to put our staff into any type of jeopardy,” Scrapneck said.

“We have our own kind of bubble right now. If we start having 100 people from across the province, most of them would be from the Winnipeg area, but we’d have people from Brandon, Portage, Winkler, and all that coming in. The bubble’s changed, but it’s also capacity. You can’t jam all those people in a small facility and have space.”

Jeff Mitchell, a 36-year-old fitness director at the Winnipeg Winter Club, looks forward to the Manitoba Open each year. It’s one of the few tournaments where players get to feel like a pro if they win, posing with a big trophy and having their name etched on it. But with no trophies up for grabs this summer, players like Mitchell have taken matters into their own hands.

“I just started reaching out to guys I play in tournaments and started setting up more matches and literally doing full tournament formats, where some of these matches were going two and a half hours just to keep your conditioning up and stay on top of your game against tournament-calibre players,” said Mitchell, who’s come close to winning the Manitoba Open in the past.

“That’s been the main way to compete throughout this.”

Arndt was hopeful at the beginning that Tennis Manitoba would be able to host a sanctioned tournament or two at the end of the summer, but that’s off the table. There could be an indoor tournament in the winter, but at this point, it’s indefinite.

“All the western provinces, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and B.C., are not hosting any sanctioned events like here in Manitoba. But all the eastern provinces, Ontario, Quebec and so on and so forth, all started tournaments two weeks ago,” Arndt said.

“Ontario for instance, on the first week they started they had 11 or 14 tournaments in one weekend. The highest cases are east and yet they’re hosting tournaments. I’m proud our numbers are low here in Manitoba but maybe that’s why they are low because we’re cautious.”

It hasn’t been all doom and gloom for tennis. Arndt and Mitchell have both noticed public courts being used more frequently, which suggests interest in the game is still growing.

At Kildonan Tennis Club, losing tournaments has been a financial hit, especially as a not-for-profit, but Scrapneck said they’ve been able to find positives in the situation.

“We’re gonna be close, but we’re going to have a negative year (financially). The Manitoba Open would’ve contributed towards that,” Scrapneck said.

“So, we’re losing the buzz, the energy, but at the same time, it’s been very relaxed and peaceful. The club has taken its own serene approach to things.”

taylor.allen@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @TaylorAllen31

Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen
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Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of...

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Updated on Friday, August 14, 2020 7:01 PM CDT: Photo changed.

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