At the time of writing, there are still two places available at the ATP World Tour Finals, with five players fighting for the berths.
But a long season can take its toll and there must be some aching bodies in the locker room, even though the players will be giving everything they have got on court to make it to the O2 arena in just over a week’s time.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is one of the players who stands a chance of qualifying for the season finale but his attempt suffered a blow last week when he sustained a wrist injury in the opening round of the Valencia Open and was forced to pull out of the match.
He must now win the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris this week, where he is reigning champion, to be in with a shout, and even then he needs other results to go his way.
The tournament has already thrown up some surprise results. Roger Federer went out in the second round to Frenchman Julien Benneteau, while Rafael Nadal was forced to save five match points before coming through his match against compatriot Nicolas Almagro.
Nadal in particular looked extremely out of sorts, perhaps an indication of the toll that months of tennis have taken on the Spaniard. And he has not even played a full season, having taken two months out in the summer – including missing the opportunity to defend his Wimbledon title – to treat the tendonitis in his knees.
The 23-year-old is just one of the players who has criticised the length of the ATP calendar, calling for it to be shortened to relieve the pressure on the competitors’ bodies and minds. Federer is another.
Andy Murray has also been an injury casualty this year, being forced out for six weeks with a wrist strain. He was one of nine players to pull out of the Shanghai Masters through injury and following his victorious comeback at the Valencia Open, he admitted that the effort of beating Fernando Verdasco in the semi-final had taken its toll.
“I felt like a 50-year-old man after the match with Verdasco,” he joked. “I was just limping around; it’s not good.”
On the women’s side, Venus and Serena Williams – who have both been hampered by injuries throughout their careers – have long called for a shorter season.
The best way of organising the calendar would surely be to double up some of the tournaments so that they are staged in one of two places in alternate years, much like the Canadian ATP 1000 event, which switches between Toronto and Montreal.
Ideally, the women’s and men’s calendars would be aligned so that in the year that a city was not staging a men’s tournament, it would instead host the women’s event, and vice versa.
It is hugely important for tournaments to be staged in countries all over the world for the good of the game and this is one of the arguments against shortening the calendar. These events need to be in place so the stars of the future can see and be inspired by the world’s best players.
That is why alternating tournaments between two locations should be considered. Fewer tournaments would hopefully encourage more of the better players to participate in smaller events and therefore attract larger crowds. At the moment, most of the top five only play a handful of smaller tournaments on top of the 1000 events and grand slams. Players may also choose to join their country’s Davis Cup team more regularly.
The additional time created by the reduced number of tournaments could be used to allow larger entries to the tournaments, so that the lower-ranked players would not miss out simply because the top men and women are present.
This set-up might also improve audience numbers, as the tournament would be more of a precious commodity, with spectators having to wait two years to see the men or women play.
This can be useful from a financial point of view for organisers. Rarity can be a good excuse for boosting corporate hospitality prices, as is evident from the hike in charges for Ashes packages, which of course can only be bought once every two years. The extra money could then go back into the game, through grass roots initiatives, for example.
Whatever the solution, something must be done. The game is more physical than it has ever been and the strength in depth in both the women’s and men’s games is at its highest level, meaning more tough matches for the players.
If we want to see the world’s best enjoying long and illustrious careers, the pressure on them must be eased.
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BIOGRAPHY: Marcus Rashford