Billie Jean King with Serena Williams

MUMBAI: Tennis great Billie Jean King says the financial fallout from the coronavirus shutdown has exposed the unfairness of the sport and that it is important for the top players to lead the cause for change. The tennis season was suspended in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the shutdown will continue at least until mid-July, depriving lower-level players, who depend solely on tournament winnings, of the chance to earn a living.

The sport’s governing bodies have joined forces to devise plans to provide relief and 12-times Grand Slam singles champion King said the sport had the chance to emerge stronger from the health crisis. “This is a good time to reset and to have one voice in the sport, which we really never had. We need that desperately,” King told the Tennis Channel. “I hope they will all work together more after the COVID-19 situation calms down.

“Maybe some day, and I didn’t think it is possible, we might have a Commissioner. I don’t know. We are not the biggest sport in the world, we don’t have as much money as say soccer. So we need to stick together and everyone needs to help each other. “The thing that’s also good is it shows the inequities that go on. So this is a good time to reset and think about how we want our sport to look in the future. What can we do to make it better, stronger and more secure?

“This is a really good chance to have a new normal for tennis.” While tennis is a lucrative sport for those at the top, those in the lower echelons often struggle to make ends meet. The men’s ATP, the WTA, which runs the women’s circuit, the world governing body International Tennis Federation and the organisers of the four Grand Slams have come together to work on creating an emergency relief fund. World number one Novak Djokovic has said he had been in touch with fellow men’s Player Council members Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal and the players were looking to contribute collectively to assist those in the lower rankings.

King said the WTA was also working on ways to provide financial relief for its players. “Some money has gone out to the players but we need to think about more,” said the 76-year-old American. “The people who have to drive that are the top players. Because they have the big box, they have the money, it’s really important for them to step up.”

Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal on Monday expressed his frustration that tennis players remain unable to practise due to the coronavirus pandemic, while Roger Federer revealed he was happy with his recovery from knee surgery. The Spanish government has extended the country’s state of alarm until May 9, with the entire population confined to their homes except a small number working in specific sectors, leaving Nadal perplexed as to why he can’t train.

“It’s true I don’t understand very well because we cannot play tennis when many people are going to work and even more so in our sport, where we keep at a large and safe distance and we play on opposite sides of the court,” world number two Nadal said during an Instagram Live. “But I understand that we are in a very critical situation, that the government is dealing with something unprecedented and I also understand that the last thing they think of is who can train and who cannot train.

“I understand the situation and obviously there are many things that are not logical but you have to accept the rules.” Nadal treated tennis fans to an Instagram Live in which he spoke to both Roger Federer and Andy Murray about their experiences during lockdown. The men’s and women’s tours have been halted due to the virus, while Wimbledon was cancelled last month for the first time since World War II and Nadal’s favourite Grand Slam the French Open was pushed back to September 20.

“I am not playing tennis, I do not have a court at home and I miss it a little,” Nadal said. “I am sticking to my physical routines. From the gym of my academy they were able to bring me some machines when lockdown began so I try to work a little in the morning, a little in the afternoon. “It is very important to have both the head and the body focused and it is what I am trying to do at all times.” Federer meanwhile gave an update on his right knee after the 20-time major winner decided to undergo surgery in February.

“I’ve been hitting a bit against a wall, (doing) rehab with the knee,” Federer said. “It’s OK, I had a really good first six weeks, then it was a bit slower, now it’s getting better again but I have plenty of time. “There is no stress, no rush. If there is anything positive (about being in lockdown) that’s the only thing really. I just want the knee to be good, it doesn’t matter when I return.” – Agencies