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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Nicolas Mahut and Pierre Hugues Herbert seal a hard-fought win in decisive doubles match

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Ten-time Davis Cup champions France beat Japan 2-1 scoring the fifth win in as many Davis Cup matches against the Asian team.

 

French star Jo Wilfried Tsonga reeled off seven games from 4-2 in the first set to beat Japan’s Yasutaka Uchiyama 6-2 6-1 in 58 minutes in his 12th Davis Cup season.

Tsonga saved two break points and converted four of the five break points. The Frenchman held four service games and broke twice in the fourth and eighth games to take a 6-2 lead.

Tsonga broke twice in the second and fourth games and closed out the match in the seventh game after saving two break points.

“It was very important for our team to start well. I am also happy about my game, what I did today, so I hope it continues like this”, said Tsonga.

 Yoshihito Nishioka claimed 9 of the last 11 games in his 7-5 6-2 win over Gael Monfils in 66 minutes to level the score at 1-1 sending the tie into a decisive doubles match. The Japanese player saved one break point and earned two breaks to seal the win in straight sets.

“I wanted to show to the whole world Japan are still strong. Of course, if Key was here we would be strong, but even when he is not here, we can play. Hopefully next time Kei is here and we can play better”, said Nishioka.

Both players traded breaks at the start of the first set and stayed neck and neck until the 11th game of the first set when Nishioka got the break at 5-5 to seal the first set. Nishioka broke twice to seal the second set 6-2.

Last week’s ATP Finals doubles champions Nicolas Mahut and Pierre Hugues Herbert fought back from losing the first set to beat Ben McLachlan and Yasutaka Uchyama 6-7 6-4 7-5 after 2 hours and 40 minutes.

After losing the first set at the tie-break, Herbert and Mahut broke serve in the fifth game to win the second set 6-4. Herbert and Mahut went up a break in the third set. Uchiyama and Nishioka got the break back in the 10th game, when Herbert and Mahut were serving for the match. Mahut and Herbert got another break at 5-5 and held at 15 to seal the decisive win for France.

“They played at a very high level. We know we have arrived late from London, but the captain had a lot of confidence in our team. We were 1-1, we really had to win to give France the win. There was a lot of intensity in the win but we are really happy today, this was a really difficult tie”, said Mahut.  

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Russia opens the Davis Cup campaign with a 3-0 win over Croazia

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Russia beat defending champions from Croatia 3-0 thanks to the two singles wins of Andrey Rublev and Karen Khachanov on Centre Court of the Caja Magica in Madrid.

 

Rublev cruised past Borna Gojo 6-3 6-3 in the opening match before Karen Khachanov came back from one set down to beat Borna Coric 6-7 (4-7) 6-4 6-4.

Khachanov and Rublev returned to the court to beat specialists Ivan Dodig and Nikola Mektic 7-6 (7-3) 6-4 to give Russia a 3-0 win.

“It was important to start well. I had some opportunities and took them. I am really happy we won this tie”, said Khachanov.

Belgium (two-time finalists) beat Colombia 2-1 on Court 3. In the opening match Davis Cup specialist Steve Darcis cruised past Santiago Giraldo 6-3 6-2. David Goffin came back from one set down to beat Daniel Elahi Galan 3-6 6-3 6-3. Last week’s ATP Finals semifinalists Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah won the doubles match for the Colombian team beating Sander Gillie and Joran Vliegen 6-7 (5-7) 6-4 7-6 (7-3).

“The challenge was to fight against myself. It was not easy. Sometimes you have to fight. I am happy the way I fought. I did not give up. That’s the most important thing because I am playing for my country”,said Goffin.

 

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Canada beats Italy 2-1 in the opening day of the Davis Cup in Madrid

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Denis Shapovalov battled past Matteo Berrettini 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (3-7) 7-6 (7-5) in a hard-fought second match of the round-robin Group F at the Davis Cup in Madrid to give Canada a 2-0 lead over Italy

 

Berrettini faced three break points in the third game of the opening set. Shapovalov earned two break points in the ninth game, but Berrettini held on his serve at deuce. Both players held on their service games. In the 10th game Berrettini earned three set points on return, but Shapovalov fended them off. Barrettini saved another break point to set up a tie-break. Shapovalov took a 6-3 lead earning three set points. Berrettini won two consecutive points to claw his way back to 5-6, but Shapovalov sealed the tie-break with a backhand passing shot.

Both players went on seve setting up a second tie-break. Berrettini got an early mini-break, but Shapovalov broke straight back. Berrettini took another mini-break to take a 3-2 when Shapovalov hit a volley into the net and sealed the second set 7-3 on his first set point.

Shapovalov earned a break point in the fifth game of the third set with a forehand winner. Berrettini held on his serve with his 11th ace. Both players went on serve in the next games setting up a third tie-break. Berrettini got the first mini-break to take a 4-3 lead after a double fault from Shapovalov. The young Canadian player broke straight back, when Berrettini made a forehand volley error. Shapovalov sealed the tie-break 7-5, when Berrettini fired his forehand long on his first match point after 2 hours.

“After making semifinals in the Madrid Mutua Open here, and winning the Junior Davis Cup in 2015, I feel like Madrid is a really good city for me. We will see how this week goes, but it’s a good step today”, said Shapovalov.

Fognini and Berrettini won the doubles match over beating Shapovalov and Pospisil 6-2 3-6 6-3. The Italian team got a double break to win the first set 6-2. Shapovalov and Pospisil drew level by winning the second set with a break in the eighth game. Italy saved two break points in the seventh game of the decisive set before breaking serve in the eighth game. Berrettini sealed the win for Italy with an ace.

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