Roger Federer has been playing tennis in the snow against a wall, while Serena Williams has been explaining the anxiety she has been feeling. Instead of plotting to win a 21st and 24th Grand Slam singles title respectively this summer, they too are wondering whether the coronavirus pandemic will allow any tennis at all in 2020.
Wimbledon is cancelled. Roland Garros postponed. And even the US Open – whose facilities are currently being used as a temporary hospital – may not be able to meet its 31 August deadline.
Imagine the demand for wildcards from players’ agents once the suspension is lifted. Imagine our delight at being able to follow tournaments, which would not usually quicken the pulse, on a live scoring app. And imagine how we will savour every single minute of a 14-hour day at the Australian Open. For a short while, at least.
But before we cast our minds forwards, let us take a minute to be honest about what we will miss.
There will be no European clay court season, in its regular slot at least. No trip to Rome to be surrounded by marble statues of muscular athletes in the Foro Italico. And no Roland Garros, with its long light evenings, those unique Parisian chants and the amplified sound of a ring pull being loosened to promote the tournament’s favourite brand of sparkling water.
And yes, this year I will miss the bright pastel trousers worn by the members at The Queen’s Club. Along with Eastbourne’s sea gales and having to wait for a change of ends before climbing swiftly to the very back of the stand to reclaim the BBC commentary box.
There will be no dramatic late night finishes on the outside courts at Wimbledon. There will be no camping and no queue, and therefore no “orderly” procession (‘Please don’t run, just walk!’) to take up the best seats on Centre Court once the gates open. And neither will the players’ entrance to Centre Court spring open at precisely 1pm every afternoon.
When normality gradually returns, it will be as if every player is returning from a long-term injury simultaneously. Everyone will be rusty; everyone searching for match fitness.
Federer, who genuinely has had an injury (he had arthroscopic knee surgery in February), usually starts well: remember how he won the 2017 Australian Open in his first competitive tournament for six months? But with a birthday on 8 August, he is likely to be 39 the next time he plays and will be planning for his 40th when Wimbledon returns next summer.
A summer shorn of Grand Slams will further lengthen his chances of winning another. But with 20 in the trophy cabinet, more than any other man in history, does he need to worry? After all, his closest rivals are getting older, too.
Rafael Nadal will turn 34 in June, but there may still be an autumnal French Open and he will be defending champion the next time the US Open is staged. He remains just one Grand Slam title behind Federer.
And then there is Novak Djokovic – soon to turn 33 and with 17 Grand Slams to his name. He has age on his side but may have lost the momentum which carried him to five of the last seven major titles.
The longer the interruption, the more everyone will feel in the same boat as Andy Murray, who has been able to play just 16 singles events since Wimbledon 2017. He had been toying with the idea of a return to the ATP Tour in Miami last week, hopeful that complications from his hip resurfacing operation were behind him.
But he did not rule out the need for further surgery the last time he spoke publicly. He now has a window for that, although there is no indication he needs nor intends to use it.
As for Serena Williams, she should not have to feel any pressure as a 23-time Grand Slam singles champion still competing at the age of 38. But inevitably she does, because even though no other active female player has more than seven she has made no secret of her desire to at least equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24.
It was on TikTok – in a one-minute video in which she modelled no fewer than five skirts from her wardrobe – that she admitted the pandemic had made her stressed and anxious, as well as short tempered with her daughter for coughing. She has talked about wanting to produce a sibling for Olympia. Seeing time slip away cannot be easy.
Finally, in case you are wondering who would have won the men’s singles at Wimbledon this year, I can reveal all, having been asked to provide some commentary on the winning moment for the BBC World Service.
Playing to the galleries, I had to have Federer in the final. Sticking to logic, Djokovic had to be his opponent once again.
Remarkably, Federer won the first set 6-0 and may well have taken the second on a tiebreak if it had not been for a breathtaking through the legs winner by Djokovic. The Serb was just too good after that. So he remains unbeaten in 2020.