Francesca Di Lorenzo was at the sports world’s ground zero for the COVID-19 pandemic.
The former Ohio State tennis player from New Albany was granted a wild-card entry into the Indian Wells tournament in California in early March.
Because Indian Wells is considered the biggest tournament other than the grand slams, this was a big opportunity for Di Lorenzo to make a jump from No. 128 in the Women’s Tennis Association rankings.
Or so she thought. The Arnold Sports Festival had been radically scaled back in Columbus, but around the country, sports continued as usual. Indian Wells then became the first major event to cancel.
"Everyone was disappointed and shocked about them making that decision before even (playing and) maybe not letting fans attend," Di Lorenzo said in an interview with The Dispatch. "In hindsight, you’re like, wow, that was the right decision because look where we are now. But at the time, we could not believe they canceled such a big event the day before it was supposed to start when everyone was there."
Di Lorenzo has not played since. Other sports soon followed tennis in coming to a halt.
Di Lorenzo is now back at her apartment in Tampa, Florida, waiting for the tour to resume. She does yoga or has a workout in the morning. She’s still able to practice sometimes with fellow pros in the area, but tennis is mainly on the back burner. Di Lorenzo, 22, is also taking classes online toward her degree at Ohio State.
She has no idea when the tour will resume.
"The WTA is really trying to keep us updated as much as they can," Di Lorenzo said. "They’ve been extremely helpful during this time. But again, they don’t know, either. Everyone’s asking questions, and they can’t give answers."
On the surface, tennis would seem a logical sport to return sooner than most. It doesn’t involve physical contact, and in singles matches, players aren’t usually close to each other.
But Di Lorenzo said one big issue is that the tennis tour is so international in nature. Until travel restrictions ease, she said it would be unfair to resume competition if so many players can’t get to tournaments.
So for now, Di Lorenzo and other players are just waiting while their income has dried up. The pro tennis tour is not lucrative except for those near the top. Di Lorenzo turned pro in November 2017 after two seasons at Ohio State. She has earned $435,368 in prize money, but that’s misleading.
Factor in costs for travel and coaching — Columbus native Ann Grossman Wunderlich is her personal coach — and players burn through prize money.
"I can’t complain, because I love playing and I love what I’m doing," Di Lorenzo said. "I’m grateful to be out there and have a coach that supports me. But yeah, of course the money is always kind of in the back of your mind."
Di Lorenzo said that only players in the top 100 make a comfortable living. With first-round U.S. Open victories in 2018 and 2019 on her resume, she’s on the cusp of that. But she said that jump from her level to 100 is a tougher climb than it is to go from No. 300 to 150.
It’s a moot point now, though, because nobody is playing.
"Now, it’s definitely a tough time because there’s not really any income coming in with there not being any tournaments," she said. "So I’m trying to budget and spend my money wisely because you don’t know when the next tournament is."
On the men’s tour, the top players have pledged to donate money on a sliding scale to those players ranked between No. 250 and 700. Di Lorenzo said she’s heard talk of a relief fund on the women’s tour for players ranked below No. 100 but nothing concrete.
Despite the current hiatus, Di Lorenzo has no regrets about turning pro. She loved Ohio State, but this was her dream, even if it has been interrupted.
"I’ve been fortunate enough to make some money, so it’s not like I’m 700th or something like that where I’d question myself," she said. "I haven’t questioned myself at all. It’s just a little bit of a difficult time. But yeah, I think we’ll get through it."