Is it safe to play tennis during the coronavirus pandemic?

is it safe to play tennis
Photo via Tim Vrtiska/Flickr (CC BY ND 2.0)

The coronavirus effectively put a kibosh on most group sports and activities, leading many people to seek substitute forms of exercise. This may account for indications that suggest more and more people are now getting into tennis. But is it safe to play tennis during the pandemic? 

Michael Dowse, the CEO and executive director of the United States Tennis Association (USTA) told USA Today that he had heard reports of tennis balls and pre-strung racquets having a double-digit surge in sales by the end of March alone. These types of purchases are indicative of new players, as opposed to seasoned players who already own equipment.

And it’s not difficult to see why. At face value, tennis seems to be a sport uniquely suited for social distancing, as players face off on opposite sides of a tennis court—typically, in an outdoor setting—and have little close contact with one another. When even walking and running paths tend to be overcrowded by people trying to get some fresh air and exercise, tennis can provide a safe alternative.

“Our sport is conducive to social distancing,” Dowse said. “Health and safety are paramount and tennis comes second, but once that first box is checked and it’s deemed safe, it’s the perfect sport for all of us to participate in coming out of this pandemic.”

“Ultimately, it’s up to each individuals’ decision-making whether it’s proper to come back in the communities they live in,” Dowse added. “But if the local guidelines have approved outdoor recreation, go for it. Tennis is the perfect sport to start playing in this phase. It’s social, it’s physical and it’s intellectual and that’s what we’re starved for.”

But that’s not to say the sport is a free-for-all. Many local ordinances and clubs are still advocating for common-sense measures, such as wearing masks at all times when not playing, using hand sanitizer, and keeping six feet of distance from other players.

“Social distancing goes without saying—handshakes are out—and we encourage players to place their equipment bags far from each other,” said tennis supervisor Robert Campbell, who works for the Ken-Caryl Ranch in Littleton, Colorado.

“There has been little drama over the rules,” Campbell told AARP. “If anything, the only issue has been with court space and so many people wanting to play.”

Not even the world’s best tennis players, who participated in the French Open at the end of September and into October, are immune from being infected. Novak Djokovic was diagnosed with the virus in June. After he lost his fourth-round match to Jannik Sinner, Alexander Zverev said he was “completely sick” with a fever (French Open officials said they didn’t know beforehand). Zverev later tested negative for COVID-19.  Juan Sebastian Cabal, a former No. 1 doubles player and a three-time Grand Slam winner, also tested positive in October.

As noted by the Guardian, one-tenth of the players in the top-100 have tested positive for the coronavirus, including this bonkers story of American Sam Querrey. Nobody in the top-100 on the women’s side has tested positive.

Guidelines for a safe tennis game

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure—and given that we still do not have a vaccine for COVID-19, this rings truer than ever. The USTA has outlined some tips and recommendations for playing tennis safely, in accordance with your state and local guidelines. However, the organization also notes that these safety precautions must remain in place until there is a universal vaccine or effective treatment for the coronavirus.

  • If you can’t play with members of your own household, make sure to choose opponents who you consider at low risk of contracting the virus.
  • Do not make any physical contact with other players, such as shaking hands or high fives.
  • Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water before heading to the court, and make sure to bring hand sanitizer in the event soap and water is not readily available.
  • Do not share racquets or any other equipment such as wristbands, grips, hats, and towels.
  • Each player should ideally bring and use their own can of balls for serving—and if possible, use different colors or brands to differentiate between the two.
  • Always pick up balls with your racquet and/or foot, rather than with your hands, to hit back to your opponent or players on other courts.
  • Open a new can of balls and a new grip (if possible) every time you play, and make sure to clean and wipe down all equipment, including racquets and water bottles.
  • Bring a full water bottle and avoid touching taps or water fountain handles.
  • Keep at least six feet apart from other players and maintain physical distancing by changing sides at opposite ends of the court.
  • When not actively playing, adhere to all proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and mask protocols.
  • If you feel the urge to sneeze or cough, make sure to do so into a tissue or sleeve.

The USTA also asks that you do not play if you or your opponent were in contact with someone with COVID-19 in the last 14 days, are exhibiting any coronavirus symptoms, or are at high risk. By adhering to these simple guidelines, it’s easy to engage in a safe and healthy tennis match, even in COVID-19 times.

Is it safe:

Sources: USTA, AARP, USA Today

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