Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Shanghai Masters: Stage Is Set for the Clash Between the Players and the ATP/ITF



I've wanted to write about the present "hectic tennis calendar" issue that's been the talk of the town among the tennis crowd, especially since the past few months where it has taken a new light.

It all started with the US Open when a lot of matches were being haphazardly rearranged due to rain delays. A few players were forced to play matches on consecutive days with no rest, and in some cases, on wet unplayable conditions. As expected, the victimized players responded forcefully by going on an attack against the authorities concerned, in this case, the ITF.

Since then, this issue has caught fire and is now making major news across the tennis world.

A lot of players, most famously Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick have led the charge against the ATP and the ITF, demanding a players' union that could have a say on the ongoing matters. Even Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and a few others have gone on to make negative comments against tournament scheduling, especially the US Open.

Very recently, Andy Murray talked about a strike that could possibly happen if a few changes weren't being implemented. According to his statement, the top players are being overworked all around the year with an extremely short offseason and the players are now demanding a reduced tennis load, by decreasing the number of mandatory tournaments needed to play in a calendar year.

There have been a few events the ITF manages that seem out-of-sorts in terms of scheduling. A few places where changes could be made include:

Making a few more tournaments mandatory for players, especially the Masters series by having a certain set of rules or conditions, which when satisfied by a player could allow them to skip a tournament or two. Those rules could be anything from accumulating a certain number of points, or winning a certain number of Masters series matches, etc. There are a lot of possibilities.

Shifting the Davis Cup event at least a week after the US Open finishes. It certainly makes little sense to have a Davis Cup event the same week the US Open ends, which has unfortunately turned out to be Mondays for the past few years.

Fixing the US Open right. As mentioned before, it's not the first time that the final has been held on a Monday at New York. The Super-Saturday concept has to go, as suggested by many players. That's the only way out.

To be fair, all this talk about players having a say into the matters does seem to make sense. Its true that the ATP/ITF has given a lot of players opportunities to be champions and make a mark for themselves. There's no discounting that. If not for them, the players would be nowhere. But a few small changes could help out a lot of these top guys, without affecting the lower-ranked journeymen who'd want to play more tournaments to try and do well, and in the process, earn a decent living.

On the other hand, there's also this feeling of "win-at-any-cost" attitude among a lot of top players, pushing them to squeeze the last drop of their energy-levels to win a point. Winning at all costs forces any player to go beyond their capabilities, in turn harming the physical body in the long run. And with the way the game has changed over the years, injuries are bound to happen. The only way to prevent them from happening is to mitigate the intensity level at which they play. But again, that would mean putting in less than a best-effort performance, which goes against the conscience.

Now with a meeting that's supposedly in the cards between the players and the concerned authorities at the Masters tournament in Shanghai, a lot of reporters are contemplating as to whether the demands the players are making seem feasible.

Many feel that if the players in the past were able to handle the load playing both doubles and singles at the same time, then why can't the players today deal with just one format of the game? They believe that if the current crop cannot deal with it, then it's their fitness to be blamed.

In the past though, the ATP did help by implementing several changes in the system, such as by giving byes to seeded players and cutting down the final to three sets in the Masters 1000 tournaments.

People also feel that with increased charity and exhibition games sponsored by a few popular companies/organizations, players are taking time off from time-off to participate in them. Players are obliged to take part in sponsor-based events and there seems to be no escape from that.

A lot of compromises need to be made by both parties in conflict.

Coming back to the meeting, we've got news that Federer has already withdrawn from the tournament in Shanghai and we might very well see Djokovic do that too, assuming he doesn't risk injury.

With just two of the top four players showing up, will the meeting convince the authorities of bringing in new changes? Or, in hindsight, could the withdrawals compel the authorities to make changes and make a few players happy?

Whatever the plan of action is, it would be interesting to see the sequence of events that follow in the upcoming days.

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