White Sulphur Springs, W. Va.—From the early announcement in May until the last forehand was struck on Sunday, World TeamTennis organizers worked furiously behind the scenes to make the historic 2020 season a resounding success.
When New York Empire raised the King Trophy on Sunday after beating Chicago Smash 21-20, it was time to collectively soak in the glory.
“We all worked on it together, it was a great team effort,” CEO Carlos Silva said. “Sometimes you’ve got to be lucky, but I do believe you get lucky if you plan really hard.”
The luck was the phenomenal weather over the weekend that allowed the playoffs to be played outdoors, and maybe CoCo Vandeweghe‘s forehand just clipping the baseline. The rest of the season’s success was more reliant on careful planning and execution.
The keys to pulling off a safe three weeks of team tennis was the right location, thorough protocols and league-wide teamwork.
“I think it’s amazing how it’s been pulled off,” New York coach Luke Jensen said. “The testing has been incredible. The number of safety protocols that’s come in from just to get into the bubble. The double negative that they have to have and then every week after that. From everybody that has been part of this successful season, I’m just extremely proud and grateful to be part of it.”
The teamwork extended far beyond what jersey players were wearing. Everyone from the players to the staff to the media had to be on board and buy into the “bubble” environment. That meant following protocols, respecting the seriousness of the disease and staying diligent at all times. With each passing day, win or lose, the entire group became a more cohesive family focused on one goal: making it safely to August 2.
“We all had a great meeting at the beginning of the season and I said that we were all on one team,” Silva said. “The staff, the production crew, the players, the coaches, we all had to pull together if we were going to get through it. Of course someone’s got to lose and win in sport, but even in that case, I think everyone feels they were part of the WTT team.”
Players held each other accountable, but ultimately the success of the season lay on everyone’s commitment.
“As a group, as tennis players, we need to have trust in our fellow competitors, trust in everybody to be doing the right things,” Steve Johnson said. “You don’t need to stay in your room 24/7 until you play, but just do the right thing, be smart, we’re all in this together.”
Social distancing from guests, wearing masks indoors, staying out of the casino and never leaving the resort grounds were all part of the protocols on top of regular testing. The protocols became part of an ingrained part of life for everyone at The Greenbrier.
“I really feel you’ve got to kind of incorporate [the protocols] into your lifestyle, into the whole event,” Bethanie Mattek-Sands said. “And I feel that WTT has done a good job with that.”
“I think every single person including all the players was very diligent to make sure that we could get through the season,” Silva said. “I feel very blessed and lucky that we did it.”
As the final day neared, the increasing relief was palpable amongst both staff and players. Even with every precaution in place and every detail organized, COVID-19 was a very real threat throughout the month, and the pressure was heightened by countless eyes scrutinizing the scene through their TV screens.
“It is a relief,” Vandeweghe said. “It’s a good thing the bubble has worked. We’ve done a good job as players to keep ourselves in here and only be around each other. I think everyone has taken responsibility for what they are supposed to do in this bubble.”
“It’s a big relief,” Silva said. “It was not an easy thing to do. We planned for months and months, and every single day even before the season started, things changed. Things have changed in the 30 days we have been at The Greenbrier.”
The change Silva alluded to was the fact that other states all over the U.S. were experiencing second waves of coronavirus cases. In the spring, WTT had looked into venues in Florida and Texas before settling on West Virginia, where cases have remained very low.
“I’ll say that we look smart for not going to Texas or Florida for sure,” Silva said. “I think that was a really good decision that we made, but some of that was because The Greenbrier presented us with something that was very appealing, so everyone gets to win.”
The Greenbrier offered 11,000 acres, 710 rooms, an indoor and outdoor stadium, nine restaurants and five practice courts. There was also activities like golfing, off-roading and horseback riding, spacious suites and cottages to host larger families and ample terrain for player dogs to roam in.
“I’ve had an amazing time at The Greenbrier, I played a lot of golf,” Vandeweghe said. “I really enjoyed the facility that was set up for us, the environment that was set up for us to be able to get back to training and playing again.”
COVID-19 forced the unique scenario of holding the season entirely at one site, but it went so well that players are eager to do it all again.
“It was a nice overall experience and I wouldn’t mind if it was the same format here in the future,” Nicole Melichar said. “I know they did it due to COVID, but if they did that like that in the future, I would not mind at all.”
“I know all the players enjoyed seeing each other,” Silva said. “And it felt more like a Slam: players watching other matches, players hanging out, players hitting with each other. I think that was a key to the success for sure.”
The success of WTT 2020 isn’t just great news for the league’s future, but for professional sports as a whole. Having zero positive COVID-19 test results while enjoying full-fledged competition in a safe, controlled environment gives hope to more events this year.
“I think every tennis event can take a look at what we did here,” Jack Sock said. “Even having guests at the resort and still have no positive tests, and everyone doing what they can with the masks and protocols to be able to host the entire three-week season. I think it’s only good news for the rest of the fall.”
WTT 2020: Season In Review
Nina Pantic is a tennis writer, editor, podcast host and content producer. She played collegiate tennis at UCLA. You can follow her on Twitter at @NinaPantic1