World TeamTennis will compress its 2020 season into a three-week, single-site event featuring nine teams starting July 12 at The Greenbrier, a resort in West Virginia.
The WTT said it is planning to allow up to 500 spectators at outdoor matches.
The players scheduled to participate include Grand Slam singles champions Sloane Stephens and Sofia Kenin, doubles icons Bob and Mike Bryan, Grigor Dimitrov, Danielle Collins and Tennys Sandgren. Teams in WTT consist of up to five players and a coach, usually in a mix of veterans, fresh faces and a few established stars.
“We watched [recent] UFC, UTR [Pro Match Series], NASCAR events,” WTT CEO Carlos Silva told ESPN on Friday. “We like a lot of the stuff they did, but with us the difference is that we’re playing a whole season and we won’t be on a court in someone’s backyard. It will feel like a big pro tournament.”
The WTT says it is increasing its prize money to $5 million. That is $1.5 million more than for its 2019 season.
The ATP and WTA tours remain on hiatus through July, and there has been no decision by the United States Tennis Association regarding the US Open. But WTT operates outside the traditional tournament game.
Just how closely the WTT season will resemble a typical pro tournament remains to be seen. But The Greenbrier meets many of the criteria to host a large-scale event, including more than 700 rooms and a new, 2,500-seat tennis stadium. The resort fulfills Silva’s requirements for an “entire ecosystem” that will help staff and fans limit potential exposure to the coronavirus. Silva estimates that WTT will need 100 rooms for a three-week period for players and staff.
The protocols for coronavirus testing and social distancing have yet to be worked out, but some will probably look familiar: players handling their own towels and drinks, fans wearing masks, and a limited number of line judges and support personnel. Local and state officials will likely influence these decisions.
“We have to see what the medical authorities mandate,” Silva said. “But everyone, including the staff and production people [CBS and ESPN own WTT broadcast rights], will be treated with the same safety precautions as the players.”
Silva told ESPN he views attending the event as “no different from sitting 6 feet away in a restaurant.” Every WTT match will also be televised, with no two matches going on at once.
Former WTT commissioner Ilana Kloss told ESPN it would be “tremendous for the players” if the season can be held.
“At WTT we’ve always had to be nimble and adjust when there’s been either a need or an opportunity to respond to changes made by the ATP or WTA,” said Kloss, who is also the managing partner in Billie Jean King Enterprises. “We’ve been problem solvers.”
While WTT has not caught on in a big way since its founding in 1973, it has continually found ways to survive, generally by playing a limited schedule in the summer and enticing top stars to appear in cameo roles for at least a few matches each year. Most of the teams in WTT are managed by the league, which makes it easier to make decisions, including those related to the pandemic and a potential reopening event.
“Different states are definitely looking for events,” Kloss said. “And some of the other [sports] leagues are looking to do something similar to what we’re trying. We might be able to get it done more easily.”
While international travel restrictions remain an obstacle to any plans the main tennis tours have for resuming play, WTT relies heavily on players from the United States. Also, many ATP and WTA pros who are foreign nationals but participate in WTT remained in the U.S. after the pandemic caused the cancellation of the Indian Wells event in mid-March.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.