Is the Tennis Season really too long? - UBITENNIS
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Is the Tennis Season really too long?

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The length of the tennis season is one that has always set the standard for debate and tension between the ATP Board and some players. Yet are just causes for concern, and what can be done if that is the case?

The ATP season does admittedly run for a large proportion of the year, and certainly compared to other sports it can seem long, with its eleven month length. January-November is a seriously long time to be pushing oneself to athletic extremes, and travelling thousands of miles across the globe to play in tournaments.

There are key differences with other sports. The Premier League in football finishes in May and does not resume competitive fixtures until mid-August.Other major European leagues enjoy an additional winter break in December/January. Players can suffer injuries, but even then, the players are almost exclusively on fixed contracts. They get paid either way.  Match times are fixed at ninety minutes (or maximum one-hundred and twenty). Squad size and the ability to rotate means a player can rest be rested to avoid burnout.

Tennis players are afforded none of these luxuries. Tennis is by nature, an extremely individualistic sport. Even doubles demands a massive amount from the individual. There can be no free-loaders. Tennis players are also at the mercy of their own bodies. Their ability to earn a living relies on staying fit, and winning matches. An injured player cannot play, therefore cannot earn. Some, earn sponsorship from their governments if they are lucky, others by private enterprises if they are deemed a young starlet. A select few at the very top of the game earn significant sponsorships from racket or kit manufacturers.

Beyond their personal reasons, the players also have ATP obligations, where top 30 players must play at least eighteen tournaments, including the Grand Slams eight out of nine Masters, and a minimum of 250s and 500s ( the Masters event that players are exempt from is either Rome or Madrid, as these are back-to-back tournaments). All other players have similar requirements ranking-entry permitting. In reality these rules are only lightly enforced, as players can easily cite an injury or illness to avoid playing specific events.

Nadal has often called for the season to be shorter

Nadal has often called for the season to be shorter

In examining those who have criticised the Tour length, there is a common denominator. Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Andy Roddick. These are all players who have a some stage of their careers enjoyed a dominance that saw/sees them play many weeks, and go deep into most events they enter. Inevitably exhaustion can and does play a role. These are players whose career earnings and sponsorship deals are such that they are financially secure. There has been some movement, with an extra week added between the French Open and Wimbledon to facilitate rest and acclimatisation for the deep-runners at Roland Garros. This has not led to fewer tournaments though. Stuttgart has swapped from clay to grass, so it is a reorganisation rather than a true shortening of the season.  In addition, many top players play lucrative exhibition during the off-season. Nadal, perhaps the most vocal to season length played an exhibition with David Nalbandian in November 2013.

On the other side of the argument are all the other players, who may or may not be secure. These are players who help make the numbers of events, the players who you see play, and occasionally beat the big names in Grand Slams. Michael Russell is now thirty-seven, and this year finally retired. Russell spent years flitting around the Top 100. He first broke it in June 2001, and left it for the last time in June 2014. His career earnings totalled less than two and a half million dollars. A small reward for more than thirteen years grafting on the tour after you consider how much must have gone into travel costs and other expenses. When you consider the gaudy earnings of players who at some points Russell was ranked less than thirty places from, it certainly seems harsh.

Players like Russell rely on the almost permanent availability of tournaments to compete in. If there is not an ATP event, there is a Challenger event. Even for players ranked inside the Top 100 for a consistent period rely on a steady stream of revenue. Tournament availability offers them that. The rest is up to them.

If the length of the season were cut, it might suit the top players but could have a catastrophic effect lower down the tennis pyramid. It is not enough to just cut ATP events and keep the number of Challengers the same. Players in the fifty-one hundred ranking area might drop down to play because they can or need to, it already happens, though not to an unreasonable extent. This would happen at an increasing rate if the number of tournaments were cut. This is, with all due respect, not where they should be competing. They should be competing in ATP events, playing in events that reflect their rankings. But there is a more ominous potential consequence. More top players at Challengers means less draw-space for the players who traditionally fill them. The effect this could have is that players are forced to either play Futures, where the earning potential just is not strong enough for some. Briton Jamie Baker, a veteran of Wimbledon and Australian Open main draws, announced his retirement a few years ago due to what he felt was a lack of financial viability. And he isn’t the only one. it is unlikely that the ATP would significantly add to the prize money at lower levels to compensate. If anything, fewer tournaments on the schedule would mean less exposure for the sport, and less income from sponsors and TV rights deals. They may even be forced to reduce tournament prize money to make up the shortfall, who knows?

But the ultimate factor is better-quality players dropping down. Because this would likely lead to many more premature retirements like that of Baker, forced into pursuing other careers. The depth of professional tennis would be drastically cut.

That is not to say that there is no middle ground, and it is fairly obvious where that middle ground is. Reducing the number of mandatory tournaments would be a good start. Cutting the Davis Cup in a Olympic year would also reduce the strain that extra tournament puts on players. Keep qualification for the Olympic tournament linked to Davis Cup participation to protect Davis Cup integrity. In potential years without Davis Cup, there could be some discussion with players whether simply keeping traditional Davis Cup weeks empty, or alternatively moving the schedule forward to facilitate an earlier end to the season would be more beneficial.

This is an issue that for whatever reason has not had much movement in recent years. Maybe this is because there simply is no need to change too much.

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Alexander Bublik reaches his third career semifinal with win over Denis Shapovalov in Marseille

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Alexander Bublik reached the third ATP Tour semifinal of his career after beating Canadian Canadian Next Gen player Denis Shapovalov 7-5 4-6 6-3 after 2 hours and 18 minutes at the Open 13 Provence in Marseille.

 

Bublik fended off a total of four break points in the first set, including three chances from 0-40, got the break in the 12th game to close out the first set 7-5, when Shapovalov hit a forehand volley wide at 30-40 after 45 minutes.

Both players traded breaks at the start of the second set. Bublik did not convert three break points at 3-2, when he hit a forehand into the net on his first break point chance. Shapovalov broke serve in the seventh game to take a 4-3 lead with a drop shot and wrapped up the second set with his third ace.

Bublik opened up a 2-0 lead with a break in the second game of the third set. Shapovalov broke straight back in the third game. Bublik got another break lead in the eighth lead at 15, when Shapovalov hit a forehand wide. Bublik sealed the win with a hold at love.

“He is a great player and serve. It was our first match, but I have known him for a very long time. I was happy to break in the first set, then in the second set he was better, and I had my chances in the third and I held on. So I am very happy”,said Bublik.

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Milos Raonic, Steve Johnson, Frances Tiafoe and Ugo Humbert reach the quarter final in Delray Beach

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Milos Raonic hit 11 aces and saved the three break points he faced to beat German Cedrik Marcel Stebe 7-5 6-3 after 1 hour and 36 minutes reaching the quarter final at the Delray Beach, an ATP Tour 250 tournament.

 

Raonic earned a break in each set. Stebe earned a break point in the ninth game with a forehand down the line, but Raonic saved it with a forehand. Raonic faced two more break points in the 11th game, but Raonic saved them with service winners. Raonic earned a break with a forehand down the line winner in the 12th game to close out the first set 7-5. Raonicwon four consecutive points on return to earn a break and closed out the match 6-3 with a hold of serve.

“I got lucky through that first set and then I tried to be a bit more aggressive, create more things and that put a bit more pressure on him. It opened up the match for me a bit more”, said Raonic.

Raonic set up a quarter final against Steve Johnson, who edged past his compatriot Jack Sock 6-4 5-7 6-1 after 2 hours and 5 minutes to reach his first quarter final at ATP Tour level in six months. Johnson came back from losing the second set by racing out to a 5-0 lead.

“This is just one of those tournaments where you feel comfortable coming back every year. It’s great to see Sock back. I thought he played a really good second set and I just got bit of a momentum in the third set”, said Johnson.

French Next Gen player Ugo Humbert edged Miomir Kecmanovic 6-4 7-6 (8-6) after 1 hour and 42 minutes to reach his third quarter final in 2020. Humbert fended off eight of the ten break points he faced and earned three breaks to win the last four games of the first set from 2-4 down. Humbert broke Kecmanovic, as the Serbian player was serving for the second set at 6-5. The Frenchman saved a set point and came back from 5-6 down by winning the final three points of the tie-break to clinch the win after 1 hour and 43 minutes. Humbert has improved his win-loss record this year to 8-3.

“It’s always tough to play against Miomir, because he is a great player. He always plays at a high level. I lost to him last week and I was a little bit stressed before the match, so I am very happy to get the win today. You have to enjoy the victory because it’s not easy every week. Winning in Auckland gave me a lot of confidence. I beat some great players, but I have to continue my improvement every day”,said Humbert.

Humbert will face US player Frances Tiafoe, who battled past Tommy Paul 7-5 7-6 (7-4). Both players stayed neck and neck in the first set until the 11th game when Tiafoe earned a break with a return winner. He served out the set 7-5 with a service winner in the 12th game.

Paul earned a break in the sixth game, but he dropped his serve, while he serving for the set at 5-3. Tiafoe closed out the match with a backhand crosscourt winner at 6-4 in the tie-break.

“It’s never easy playing a good friend. It’s awkward, but I thought it was a pretty good match overall. My forehand was definitely on, so that helped. I am starting to play good tennis again and just competing hard in every match”,said Tiafoe.  

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Simona Halep rallies from one set down to beat Aryna Sabalenka in Dubai

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Simona Halep came back from one set down to beat Aryna Sabalenka 3-6 6-2 6-2 at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in one hour and 35 minutes to advance to the semifinals in Dubai one day after saving a match point against Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur.

 

Halep earned her third win in four head-to-head matches against Sabalenka.

Halep broke in the second game of the second set to take a 2-0 lead, but Sabalenka broke straight back in the next game. Halep broke serve in the fourth game to take a 3-1 lead and never faced any break point in the next games.

Halep earned a break in the fourth game of the decider and backed it up to open up a 4-1 lead. The 2019 Wimbledon champion was taken to deuce once in her last eight service games of the match.

“I think I started to play a little bit stronger in the second set and find rhythm. It’s always tough to play against her because she is very strong and hits the ball really hard, so I had to play faster, be quicker on court and give everything I had to win”, said Halep.

Halep will face US qualifier Jennifer Brady, who clinched a win against a top 20 player for the third consecutive year by beating this year’s Australian Open finalist Garbine Muguruza 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 6-4. Brady has reached her third WTA semifinal and the first at Premier level.

Muguruza earned a break point with a forehand winner, as Brady was serving for the set. Brady was broken, when she hit two consecutive forehands into the net. Muguruza rallied from 1-3 to draw level to 5-5 and earned her first set point. The Spaniard sealed the tie-break, as Brady sent her backhand long.

Muguruza earned a break point in the sixth game with a backhand winner. Brady saved the break point with a forehand crosscourt winner and held serve with a backhand winner down the line. Brady broke serve to take a 4-3, as Muguruza made two forehand errors and hit two double faults. Muguruza dropped her serve again with another double fault.

Both players held serve in the first nine games of the third set. Muguruza held three break points in the third game, but Brady saved them with a backhand crosscourt winner. Brady sealed the win with a break on her second match point, as Muguruza sent a backhand long.

 

 

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