(Reuters) - It was a case of back to basics but live tennis returned on Friday with the opening matches at the Tennis Point Exhibition Series event staged near Koblenz in Germany.
Eight players, including one-time Wimbledon conqueror of Rafa Nadal, Germany’s Dustin Brown, were in action at the Base Tennis centre, for the start of the four-day event.
World number 354 Benjamin Hassan does not enjoy the same profile as the unmistakeable dreadlocked Brown, but he can now lay claim to winning the first professional tennis match played since the sport was suspended in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Using a shortened scoring format on the indoor court, he beat Jean-Marc Werner 4-2 4-2 in a match that was streamed live by the Tennis Channel's new Over-the-Top (OTT) platform -- Tennis Channel International or via Tennis Channel's website here.
It was not quite Wimbledon.
No spectators, line judges or ball boys are allowed and handshakes after match point are forbidden. Players are not allowed to have coaches on site, or even take a shower.
The winner’s cheque is less than 1,000 euros ($1,097) and catering is basic too, consisting of pre-wrapped sandwiches and energy bars.
Despite the strict controls, day one went smoothly, once the local police department had checked out the social-distancing measures being employed before giving it the green light.
“Everything was done to ensure the players’ safety and while it was a little different for them, especially the ones ranked higher, the players appreciated it,” Christian Klapthor, a spokesman for Playsight, one of the partners companies of the Series, told Reuters.
“The distancing measures were very controlled. After every match the benches where the players sit were wiped down with disinfectant and players arrived and left the court alone.”
He said the German tennis federation’s guidance on handling tennis balls said there was minimal risk in infection.
“Only if one player spat on a ball and the other put it in his mouth, which is pretty unlikely.”
Later, former world number 64 Brown beat Constantin Schmitz 4-2 4-2 to get his round-robin matches under way and returned to court later to beat Werner 4-3(5) 4-3(4).
The scoring system is the same as used at the ATP’s Next Gen Finals in Milan with best of three short sets to four, tiebreaks at 3-3 and ‘no advantage’ scoring.
With ‘in-play’ betting on the matches available through online bookmakers, the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU), which like the ATP Tour, has not sanctioned the event, stressed that players are still governed by anti-corruption rules.
“The TIU has, upon request, provided integrity-related information to some organisers,” the organisation said.
“This does not constitute advice and can in no way be seen as an endorsement or approval of any event that does not come under its jurisdiction.
“It is vital that as these new events begin to appear they regard integrity as a non-negotiable central priority to reduce any risk of match-fixing and betting-related corruption.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar