Thursday, February 09, 2006

The (ahem) offseason

Here we go again: The beginning of the 2006 tennis season, just fifteen minutes after the end of the last one. That's great and terrible for fans. It's great because they can see professionals compete virtually all year round. It's terrible because at least half the time, you'll be watching the likes of Jelena Dokic and Mark Philippousis attempting to recapture their glory days. The pros you'd like to see will be at home, nursing injuries they got trying to keep up with a schedule full of tournaments clustered together that flaunt money too good to pass on.
Look at the year-end tournaments. The women's tournament featured one of four grand slam champs of 2005. Kim Clijsters limped in to Los Angeles after winning the U.S. Open, but went out with a whimper. Amelie Mauresmo won it after a battle with Mary Pierce, who's a tough customer and a wily veteran, sure, but let's be honest. Mauresmo would have crumbled mentally if any of the top players were across from her.
The men's Shanghai tournament also suffered from injury problems. Andre Agassi (hip), Rafael Nadal (foot), Marat Safin (knee), and Andy Roddick (back, fractured mojo) all had to beg out either before or during the event. Roger Federer barely made it himself, and offered up some inconsistent, but courageous tennis, even down to the final, where he went down to his old nemesis David Nalbandian. The depth of the men's tour helped that tournament.
There has been talk of moving the Australian Open to March, in order to give players more time to recover. What's the delay? With a couple weeks to the big event, men's defending champ Safin is out, and so is world number 2 Rafael Nadal. Clijsters is already doubtful. The Williams sisters are still getting over their injuries. The length of the season is ruining the game. This isn't golf, where you can be a chain smoker and fifty pounds overweight and still make a living. Tennis can be a grind, especially if you're playing three or more competitive best-of-five matches in a week about two times a month. Shorten the season, for crying out loud.
The ATP and WTP keep talking about doing more to gain fans in the U.S. Well, trust me, nothing's going to attract fans to the game like offering up an all-star lineup: Maria Sharapova! Andre Agassi! Serena Williams! Andy Roddick! only to deliver: Patty Schnyder. Dominik Hrbaty. Jill Craybas. Paul Goldstein.
That'll keep 'em glued.

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