Many tennis players are growing increasingly unhappy at the gruelling length and content of the ATP Tour. The yearly season runs from early January, where warm-up tournaments take place in Australasia and the Middle East in preparation for the first Grand Slam of the year in Australia, to the ATP World Tour Finals in London in late November, and even the Davis Cup Finals in December.
From beginning to end, this arduous, jam-packed calendar provides just 4 weeks of off-season before the tour begins once again. The rest and recuperation that the players so dearly need by this stage, therefore, is severely limited.
Signs that this growing tour schedule is taking its toll have been noticeably visible in recent months. Until the ATP 500 tournament in Basel this past week, Roger Federer did not play any tennis since the US Open apart from his Davis Cup appearance. His necessary break from the tour in order to recover from fatigue and exhaustion was longer than his regular off-season.
Andy Murray was also a no-show in the recent ATP 1000 tournament in Shanghai due to a wrist injury, only returning in Valencia last week, but with frequent icing on his longstanding injury.
Nadal, too, has been a victim of the season’s busy schedule. After his Australian Open win, plus multiple successes on the American hard courts and European clay earlier in the year, his constant weekly play finally took its toll on his knees and the Spaniard had to withdraw from the tour for several months. Even in the recent tournament in Shanghai, signs that Nadal had still not fully recuperated from his ailments (he has also been suffering from a stomach muscle pull) were visible.
The most vociferous critic, however, of the current tour schedule is American Andy Roddick. One of nine players to withdraw from the Shanghai field, Roddick has also withdrawn from this week’s Paris 1000 event, citing knee problems. Applauding the innovative WTA Tour Road Map that was instituted this year and designed to give the women a longer off-season, Roddick strongly believes that more time between important tournaments, and a longer off-season is desperately required for the men’s tour.
The problem seems to be particularly poignant this year, since so many top players have been consistently reaching the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals of every event that they have entered. Playing 5 or 6 matches per week, every week, can take its toll on even the most finely-tuned athlete. The fact that Grand Slams and ATP 1000 tournaments are compulsory for qualifying players only adds to the demands on high ranking players.
Although the current ATP CEO, Adam Helfant, has been more willing to listen to players’ complaints and suggestions than his closed predecessor, Etienne de Villiers, there are still questions over whether the tour schedule will be changed. Despite the ATP Tour having player representatives, ultimately the governing board has control over the structure and content of the tour. The conflict between players’ needs and sponsors’ demands, even for such an experienced professional, will be hard to resolve.