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The International Tennis Federation is looking at ways to help the players most severely affected by the sport’s shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic and is advising them to claim support from their local governments if possible.

The tennis season was halted in early March due to the pandemic, leaving players in the lower tiers who rely on tournament winnings without the opportunity to earn a living.

The men’s ATP Tour and the WTA, which runs the women’s circuit, suspended all tournaments until July after countries around the world started locking down to contain the spread of the flu-like virus.

Last week, Wimbledon was scrapped for the first time since World War II while the French Open has been moved from May to September.

The ITF, which is tennis’ world governing body and oversees the Fed Cup and Davis Cup, along with a number of lower-level tournaments, has taken a similar approach.

“The ITF, ATP, WTA and Grand Slams have had ongoing discussions during the suspension of play and realize the impact that this is having on not only players but other stakeholders such as nations, tournaments, officials, coaches and spectators,” ITF President David Haggerty said in an interview.

“We are continuing our discussions to find feasible ways to assist these groups now and when we return to tennis. We would also encourage players to access official government support as a freelance/single employee company in their own countries where possible.”

Georgia’s Sofia Shapatava, the 375th-ranked women’s singles player in the world, recently started a petition seeking assistance from tennis governing bodies for lower-level professionals.

Many others have joined her to voice their concerns about the financial hardships players are facing during the shutdown.

The London-based ITF has had to postpone 900 tournaments across all of its circuits because of the virus and has put half its staff on furlough.

Haggerty said the ITF is not taking registration fees from players, has made resources on its academy platform free and suspended subscriptions for member nations until play resumes.

“Nobody is able to predict how long the sport will be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic but we are working hard to maintain the infrastructure of tennis as a global sport and preserve earning opportunities when it is safe to do so,” said the 62-year-old.

“Earlier this week I was part of a call with White House Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow with some fellow tennis stakeholders getting the view of the return to sports, and how tennis will resume.

“The experts have ideas but there are still many details to be worked out about when it is safe for sport, and specifically tennis, to return.”

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