PARIS (AFP) – Davis Cup qualifying started on Friday under the shadow of the deadly coronavirus with fist bumps instead of handshakes, ball boys and girls keeping their distance from sweat-stained towels and two ties even played out in eerily empty arenas.
With matches taking place from Australia to Japan to Europe and in South America and Hawaii, 12 teams are bidding to join defending champions Spain, 2019 runners-up Canada, semi-finalists Great Britain and Russia, as well as wildcards France and Serbia in the Madrid finals in November.
Two of Friday’s encounters had to be staged behind closed doors with spectators banned in Miki, where Japan are hosting Ecuador, and in Cagliari as Italy faced South Korea.
“Conditions were strange,” said Italian number one and world 11 Fabio Fognini after cruising past 251-ranked Lee Duck-hee 6-0, 6-3 in just over an hour at the Circolo Tennis venue.
“It was not difficult to focus but it was a bit strange to play in front of 100 people. But safety first and then sport,” Fognini told daviscup.com.
Italy has been the worst-hit European country with 197 deaths from the coronavirus.
As a result, all sporting events are being played behind closed doors for the next month.