Davis Cup qualifying ties in Italy and Japan will be played without spectators due to the global outbreak of coronavirus.
One of Japan’s top players is also unable to travel due to the virus.
Qualifying for November’s Davis Cup Finals takes place on 6-7 March, with 12 ties being played around the world. The winning nations secure places at the Davis Cup Finals to be played in Madrid from 23-29 November 2020, joining last year’s semifinalists Spain, Russia, Great Britain and Canada and wildcards France and Serbia.
The qualifying ties retain the traditional home-and-away format of Davis Cup despite the revamp of the later stages of the competition to take place in a week-long event held at a neutral venue, but two of this weekend’s ties will now be played behind closed doors.
Japan’s tie against Ecuador in Miki, Japan will take place without spectators, as will Italy’s against South Korea in Cagliari, Italy.
A Davis Cup draw in the time of coronavirus
In Cagliari, Italy…where South Korea & Italy are preparing to face each other with everyone keeping their distance
— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) March 5, 2020
Italy’s Fabio Fognini – the highest-ranked player scheduled to compete this weekend – said:
‘It’s the worst thing – the situation that they have to make the decision we have to play with no public. It’s bad, but I think it’s safer for us players, for the people involved because they sold 3,500 tickets. I think it’s the best solution at the moment.’
South Korea has been the nation worst hit by Covid-19 other than China, with other 5,600 reported cases.
Italy has reported over 3,000 cases of Covid-19, mainly in the north of the nation. The number of confirmed cases in Japan has now climbed over 300. Almost all schools in Japan are now closed and several sporting events have been cancelled, including the Six Nations rugby match between Ireland and Italy on 7 March. All sporting events in Italy until 3 April are to be played behind closed doors.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared a public health emergency.
In addition to playing without spectators, Japan are at a further disadvantage after their no. 2 player, Yoshihito Nishioka, did not travel over from the USA where he has been competing, due to fears he might not be able to return. Nishioka was replaced by Yosuke Watanaki.
Japan’s top player, Kei Nishikori, is in Miki for the tie but is not fit to play. The former world no. 4 has not competed since August due to an elbow injury.
Speaking to daviscup.com, Nishikori said:
‘Everything is going well, but I just couldn’t make it in time. I’m sure I will come back soon, hopefully in Miami this month or for the clay court season, but not this week.
‘My elbow is fine but my body is not ready yet, and I want to build it up. I’ve rested a long time and I’m coming back from zero. It’s sad, seeing the Australian Open and now skipping the Davis Cup, and other big tournaments are coming.
‘It’ll be weird without fans here. I’m sure the players will feel something different. When you have a lot of people watching, you automatically focus, so the team will have to support each other more than usual.’
Ecuador captain Raul Viver said:
‘It’s gonna feel strange when we start the matches and see the empty stadium. It’s a beautiful venue. I know they sold all the tickets and it’s a pity for them to play at home without spectators.
‘We’ve been in Americas Group I for many years so this is a chance for us, and that played a major role in our decision to come, as there was definitely some concern with coronavirus, though the main concern was the possibility of not being able to travel back to the States because of it.’
Satoshi Iwabachi, the Japanese captain, said:
‘This is everyone’s first experience of a tie without fans and I don’t know what will happen after we start. Still, many people will be watching on TV and we know there’s a lot of fans behind us anyway.’