WTA President Micky Lawler looks back on a year like no other
That’s how Micky Lawler, president of the WTA Women’s Tennis Tour, described 2020, the year everything changed in professional sport.
March 9 local coronavirus outbreak in Coachella Valley forced Indian Wells tournament to be canceled in California. Professional tennis, which is played 10 months a year around the world, ended up being suspended for five months as the virus raged across the world, leaving dozens of tennis players, coaches and their entourage , who work mainly as independent contractors, with no income.
“Simply unthinkable a year ago … who could have imagined the challenges that awaited us in 2020?” Lawler, a former language teacher who became one of the first female sports agents, said in a video call interview from Washington, DC: “From the fires in Australia, to Covid. When we were in Australia it became clear that Covid was a much bigger problem than I think people understood.
My interview with Lawler is the second in a mini-series in which I look back on this extraordinary year with many players in tennis. You can read Part 1, a double interview with Mark Leschly, President and CEO of Universal Tennis in the United States, and its President and former WTA CEO Anne Worcester, here.
The pandemic has forced the first cancellation of Wimbledon Championships since WWII, while the The lucrative Asian swing of tennis events in the fall was also put on hold, including the WTA final in Shenzhen, China. in November. But the US Open was held, behind closed doors, in September, while Roland Garros was held in late September / early October, having been moved from its original start date in May.
“In light of everything that has happened, I think we can look back on the tennis family and be very proud of the fact that so many tournaments have taken place and especially proud of the work that has gone into it. organization of these tournaments and the risks to people. have taken and at their own expense for the best of the game, ”said Lawler, born in the Netherlands, who speaks five languages and has more than three decades of experience in leadership roles in sports and entertainment.
Although the Men’s ATP Tour held its season-ending ATP Finals in London in November behind closed doors, the WTA Finals in Shenzhen, with a record $ 14 million in prize money at stake for the top eight players. of singles and doubles in the world, has been canceled. because of the pandemic. Other WTA tournaments in Beijing, Wuhan, Nanchang, Zhenghzhou, Zhuhai and Guangzhou have also been dropped.
Asia, and China in particular, has been a huge growth market for women’s tennis over the past decade.
When asked if the WTA would be able to absorb the suspension from the WTA Finals, its most lucrative event, Lawler said, “This shouldn’t happen for more than a year because financially, it is a great success. Of course, it’s a big hit for tournaments. It is a great success for the players. We all had to adapt and make significant sacrifices, so it took us all to work as a team and make personal sacrifices and come together, and that’s what we did.
“We try to provide as much financial support as possible, working with price corrections and again, adapting and working with what is reasonable and realistic under the circumstances. But no one is left untouched. Not the players, not the tournaments, no one. So it’s a question of: we have to reschedule our lives.
Earlier this month, the WTA announced a the rebranding, which included a new marketing campaign, a new logo and, most importantly, closer alignment with the men’s ATP Tour.
“It allows us to come out on the other end rejuvenated,” Lawler said of the overhaul, “but very aware of the damage in the aftermath and the years it will take to rebuild.
“It’s really hard to talk about sports affairs when, in this country, for example, over a quarter of a million people have lost their lives and there are states where one in 20 people is sick. It’s just devastating. So you have to accept that as an individual and as a member of society … And so we have no illusions about when the vaccine will arrive, and the next day everything is back to normal. It will take a long time. “
Lawler is full of admiration for the way WTA players have faced competition in the “new normal”.
“It’s extraordinary,” Lawler said. “They traveled when the others didn’t, they took risks. And again, everyone got together. The players have been phenomenal, patient with the new technological demands, patient with the tests. The test is not easy and painless. It’s quite intrusive and aggressive. And they don’t complain. They do what they have to do. And that’s every few days and sometimes every day. And there is no freedom.
They’re young women … and there’s a reason they’re some of the best in the world at what they do. A star, a very talented musician, a very talented athlete. You can always see that there is something very special about these human hearts and souls that reach this level of competition.
Lawler said she spoke about the pandemic with her mother, who grew up in the Netherlands during World War II, when the country was occupied by the Germans for five years.
“My mom told me, it’s, in a way, worse than WWII,” Lawler said. “The difference is that during WWII people were able to be together and he was our savior. And here people have to be separated. And that is the challenge. “