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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Viewpoint: Players Need to Stop Complaining

Viewpoint: Players Need to Stop Complaining

With a nod to Bill Maher, New Rule: Journalists must stop asking players if the season is too long. And here’s another New Rule: Players must stop complaining that the season is too long.
Seriously, why are we still having this discussion? Just this week, in Shanghai, Rafael Nadal, Andy Roddick and Tommy Robredo, among others, were moaning about the season that never ends.
Does anyone else feel as if they’re stuck in Groundhog Day—which is to say, a really bad movie that keeps getting played over and over? Ever since Bjorn Borg prematurely quit the tour about 30 years ago because he wasn’t allowed to cherry pick the tournaments he wanted to play instead of playing a full schedule like everyone else, the “grueling” tennis season as been a favorite lightning rod among the pros.
Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesRoddick complained Tuesday about the lack of "a legitimate offseason to rest, get healthy, and then train."For the record, the schedule goes from the first week of January to mid-November (early December for those in the Davis Cup final). It’s a long season on the face of it, but is it really asking too much of the players? For one thing, after the Australian Open, the month of February is essentially a black hole that many top players take off. Most of July, after Wimbledon, offers players a chance to regroup. And after the U.S. Open, players aren’t required to show their mugs for about another month when the tour hits Shanghai.
What’s been especially disappointing this week, in the middle of the Shanghai bitch fest, is that the players seem more clueless than ever. Take Nadal. While he said “it’s impossible to play 1st of January and finish 5th of December,” he has also announced that he’ll be competing in the Abu Dhabi exhibition at the beginning of next year before the Australian Open. (Roger Federer is also scheduled to compete there.) It’s not required that Rafa sign up for this event, though one can only guess that the folks at Abu Dhabi are offering up sizeable appearance fees that will probably go a long way in making a tired mind and body feel rejuvenated.
Roddick, meanwhile, bemoaned: “We’ve been talking about this forever, and now we get slapped with mandatory tournaments….We don’t really have a whole lot of choices in the matter, which I don’t think is the right way to go about it.”
Robredo echoes those sentiments: “The problem now is that we have the obligation to play certain tournaments….We have to play the Masters 1000, the Grand Slams, and that’s an obligation. Sometimes it’s in a time that maybe you would like to rest a little bit.”
It’s troubling to hear the players gripe about having to honor “obligations” and “commitments.” All professional athletes, and all professional teams, have to go to certain places and play in certain games that they mind not deem ideal. Do you think the Yankees really want to face Baltimore—in August? Do you think any NFL team wants to compete in the cesspool known as the Meadowlands?
On the ATP tour, the pros are supposed to play eight of the nine Masters Series events (Monte Carlo is the exception) and four 500-level events (Monte Carlo can count toward this quota) throughout the year, with only one required to be after the U.S. Open. The Top 8-ranked players are also required to show up for the year-end World Tour Finals. Add to that the Grand Slams, at two weeks each, and the Davis Cup (4 times per season for teams that reach the final) and you’ve got a maximum tournament requirement of 25 weeks. Don’t know about you, but I’d fancy a work schedule like that. And this, of course, assumes that these players are getting deep into the second week of majors and going far in Davis Cup, which only a select few actually do.
And yet, despite being supposedly stretched too thin, the players find time to work in exhibitions. Funny, though, I can’t remember the last time someone held a press conference at an exhibition because he was upset over having to attend some far-flung non-tour event?
But let’s say the ATP caved in to the top players’ demand and eliminated commitments for Masters Series events. What would happen to the tour? With players free to compete where and when they wanted, the Masters Series 1000—the crown jewel of the men’s tour—would be diluted. Rather than getting all the top players in one spot for a few weeks out of the year, these events would be just like all the others, with a couple stars mixed in with the rank-and-file. Without mandatory requirements, the bad old days of under-the-table appearance fees would probably return, and cowboy tournament organizers would lure players to their events without considering what’s best for men’s tennis.
It’s no secret that over the last 15 years the Grand Slams have made huge strides in becoming the sport’s main attractions, overshadowing all other tournaments. And it’s no secret that many non-majors are struggling financially. The one bright spot, at least on the men’s tour, have been the Masters 1000s. But by taking the advice of Roddick & Company, the tour would effectively be ceding more ground to the Grand Slams. Doesn’t sound like a good long-term business plan for men’s tennis, does it?
Yes, the players don’t like to drag themselves to Asia and Europe after the U.S. Open. We get it. And yes, the players get tired and injured like any other professional athletes. We get that, too.
But instead of watching this interminable rerun about the oppressive tennis schedule, it would be refreshing to hear the players talk about ways to invigorate and support their brand. And, if they really have reached their breaking point before a big event that they’re supposed to attend, do what everyone else does: Call in sick.

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