Physical contact between tennis athletes is a rarity, except for potential collisions in doubles play and the traditional postmatch handshake or fist bump.
Physical contact between a tennis player and a tennis ball, however, is unavoidable. It’s the most significant obstacle for local girls’ athletes and their coaches to hurdle over in a return to the sport this fall, with the 2020 IHSA season beginning Monday.
In that respect, tennis matches and tournaments will look quite a bit different in the near future.
Buckets and crates of tennis balls will be set aside in favor of numerous individualized tubes of balls.
As Urbana girls’ coach Parker Sands was doing Monday during a workout at Blair Park, those in charge will have to provide each player with a set of tennis balls that can be touched only by that player. Marking them in some fashion — with a player’s initials, for example — will become common.
IHSA guidelines recommend “a new can of balls for each match” if at all possible, and any athlete looking to move a ball that isn’t hers must use a racket or foot to push it along.
From that perspective, 2020’s tennis matches may be a little slower than those of previous years.
But what about the actual competition — as in, how will matches and tournaments be set up?
As with other IHSA fall sports, there is no outright ban on large-scale events. However, they’d have to be conducted in a flighted format — allowing some kids on courts at a time, then shuttling them off and allowing a new group to enter.
For tennis, this isn’t out of the realm of possibility. It’s actually how a lot of higher-level tournaments work. Serena Williams doesn’t sit in the stands all day waiting for her match to start after all.
Even so, it probably will be more common to see dual or triangular matches this season, simply as a means of avoiding putting too many people in one place at one time.