Kiki Bertens has won the prestigious Madrid tennis tournament!

Has the coronavirus gotten into this columnist’s head? Didn’t Bertens win last year in La Caja Magica? Or did I miss something? I hear you all thinking that.

No, the coronavirus hasn’t got a hold of me yet. Yes, Bertens triumphed on the gravel of Madrid in 2019. And yes. You missed something. Bertens did successfully defend her title last week!

The only difference from a year ago – this time, Bertens is a virtual champion. She didn’t beat her opponents with a racket in her hands, but with a joystick at home along with Kerber, Bouchard, Vekic, Wozniacki, Bencic, and Ferro. Without producing a drop of sweat. This way, the 28-year-old Dutchwoman proves that she also has talent as a Playstation gamer.

During the corona crisis, this virtual tennis tournament is regarded as an innovative alternative to the cancelled live event. Bertens is allowed to donate the €150,000 prize money to fellow tennis players in need of money and deposit it in a fund for economic victims of COVID-19.

According to the organization, The Mutua Madrid Virtual Open reached approximately fifteen million people worldwide who watched the tennis pros play via Facebook. So, the initiative has only winners. And yet, no one hopes that the virtual tournament will be back on the program in 2021.

For the time being, the real tennis world will be on hold until 13 July. It is still difficult to predict when the professional circuit will be up and running again. But until then, Playstation will have to remain an alternative. There will be no public play anytime soon on the road back to how it used to be . But, step by step, we will try to return to the former ambiance of a full center court. It would be a huge victory over the coronavirus if that were to succeed in Madrid by May 2021.

Virtually all professional sports are struggling with these circumstances during this crisis. After a month and a half of gaming stuck on the bench, football players are very hungry for the ball. Resumption of the league seems a long way off for the pros from the Netherlands and France. In both countries, football will probably stay at a standstill until September. How different that is in Spain, where the players will begin individual training sessions as of today. From next week on they’ll start playing as a team again and in June begin playing behind closed doors. At least that’s the plan.

Of course, none of this is that straightforward. It does require some improvisation. Let’s take Real Madrid as an example. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, all players will need to be tested first. Healthy players can be included within a couple of weeks in a few of the selections isolated from the outside world. Real Madrid will exchange the enormous Estadio Santiago Bernabéu for the much smaller Estadio Alfredo Di Stéfano at the club’s training complex.

Playing without an audience is of course much less appealing and inevitably results in a huge loss of income. Yet this temporary move also has advantages. It not only saves costs of the use of the stadium but also creates a laboratory for innovation. More than ever before, football is dependent on ingenious techniques whereby games played in full stadiums can be simulated as accurately as possible. Maybe it’s just a matter of reversing the roles for the time being. And for now, the real soccer players just have to perform in a Playstation setting. Bread and games in times of corona.

Read earlier columns of Koen Greven from Spain here.

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