The end of the tennis season is less than a couple of months away, and the top players have their eyes on the 02 Masters.
Five players have so far qualified for the winter showpiece event, with three spots still up for grabs. Of the five already qualified, Andy Murray and Roger Federer are both currently off the tour due to injury and fatigue respectively.
Rafael Nadal is fit and playing, but his injury problems this season have been well documented. Novak Djokovic’s body seems to be holding up at present, while new US Open champ and the fifth man to qualify for the Masters, Juan Martin Del Potro, lost early in China, saying he felt “less than 100%”.
All of the ‘Big Five’ hope to be fit in time for the ATP World Tour Finals in London, as do the rung of players just below them, who have also had a variety of physical complaints to contend with.
Fernando Verdasco has postponed surgery as he attempts to qualify for the first time, while fellow contender Gilles Simon has been troubled by an injured knee for much of the latter part of the year.
Injuries, fatigue and withdrawals are nothing new at this time of year; indeed it’s so common you can be sure the debate about shortening the season and giving the players more time off is just around the corner once more. Last year, the then world number one, Rafael Nadal didn’t play the Masters Cup, and in 2005 two of the top three withdrew.
So why are there so many injuries at this time of year? The tennis season is one of the longest in sport, and although it’s not a contact sport, the wear and tear on the players’ body is immense. Part of that is down to the amount of hard court tennis in the calendar, which causes havoc with players like Rafael Nadal, whose pounding style of play means his knees bear the brunt of his weight on his shots throughout a match.
Clay and grass are far more forgiving, but tournaments on those surfaces have become increasingly rare in recent years; the thinking is that hard courts are less of a ‘specialist surface’, thereby creating a level playing field.
Another issue is overtraining. John McEnroe was critical of Andy Murray’s ‘excessive’ training regime after his disappointing US Open defeat by Marin Cilic, and that would certainly seem to have played a part in Rafael Nadal’s troubles.
Sooner or later, something will have to be done, whether it is a shortening of the season, or reducing the number of hard court tournaments. The catalyst for this may be the ultimate early retirement of Rafael Nadal, which seems to be a matter of when and not if.
Thankfully, Nadal is currently fit and by all accounts playing well. So bearing in mind the injuries and cases of fatigue that are currently affecting the top players, who is worth backing, and who is worth avoiding?
Rafael Nadal will want to finish a season that had started so promisingly strongly, so he will be tough to beat.
Juan Martin Del Potro, on the other hand, may be suffering from ‘Post first Grand Slam-itis’, just as Pete Sampras did after winning the US Open in 1990. He struggled with the increased pressure, and didn’t win another major for close to three years.
While I wouldn’t expect Del Potro to have the same problems, I also wouldn’t expect him to roll over everyone in his path during this year’s remaining tournaments. Andy Murray is another player who may be vulnerable, as his confidence will have been affected by his US Open loss plus he will be short of matchplay after withdrawing from tournaments due to his wrist injury.
The three players I would expect to finish the season strongly are Novak Djokovic, now within touching distance of replacing Murray as world number three; Jo Wilfried Tsonga who enjoys the indoor circuit and hasn’t yet set the tour alight this season, and Nikolay Davydenko, who has was runner-up at last years Masters Cup.
Reproduced with permission from betting.betfair.com. Ã‚Â© The Sporting Exchange Limited
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BIOGRAPHY: Eric Bailly