a major problem: bringing sanity to pro tennis’ broken calendar

13 Jun

analysts have weighed in routinely on the need for pro tennis’ governing authorities to institute a lengthier off-season for their players. and rightfully so. right now, tennis pros have to compete for over ten months a year, and spend a good portion of their “down time” punishing themselves in brutal training regimens just to keep up. the lack of a true period of rest places excess strain on players’ bodies, which, coupled with the increasingly physical nature of the game, results in more frequent injuries, shortened careers, and, worse of all, cranky spaniards.


this is a bad deal, and it needs to be addressed. but as i watched rafa go down 6-4, 6-1 to german journeyman dustin brown in his first match in halle on thursday, it dawned on me that commentators have not paid nearly enough attention to an issue that is separate from, but very much related to, pro tennis’ nearly invisible off-season: the insanity of the grand slam calendar.


it’s time for someone to speak out. the clay-grass turnaround period is insane. no sooner had rafa hoisted the trophy in roland garros than he was darting off to squeeze in precious training time on the green turf in germany.


rafa wasn’t the only player affected by the quick switch from the slower, heavier play of the european red clay court swing to the crisp, power play that characterizes matches at the grass-court tune-ups leading to wimbledon. french open semi-finalist and wimbly defending champ andy murray dropped his third-round match in queens in straight-sets to czech veteran radek stepanek. ernest gulbis, who also made it to the final four in paris, dropped his queens opener in straights to frenchman kenny de schepper. de who? exactly.


what’s going on here? sure, in the case of gulbis, one can often attribute poor play to late night escapades, a penchant for on-court erraticism, and an apparent boredom with consistent success. but the idiosyncratic oddities of the latvian lion fail to account for poor performance among more consistent members of tennis’ upper echelon. something else it at play: the unreasonable demand that pro tennis forces players to make in transitioning immediately from the clay of roland garros to the grass of wimbledon.


sure, the tournaments’ chronological proximity results in one hell of a six weeks for tennis fans (there are two weeks between the end of the french and the start of wimbly), and adds to the impressiveness when someone pulls off the paris-london double. but it really just makes no sense at all. i know the atp tour is moving wimbledon back a week next year, but what’s really needed is an overhaul of the major calendar in general.


overhauling the trajectory of majors could help a lot, not just in terms of making surface transitions more reasonable, but also in extending the tennis off-seson. let me explain.


right now, most players wrap-up their season in europe at the end of october. but there’s little time for lounging. the tour kicks off with tournaments in the first week of january. so, in early december, players have to start hitting the gym. by mid-december, they’re back out on court. that leaves about six weeks of true chill time, unless you qualify for the year-end championship or davis cup finals, in which case you’ve got about a month to unwind.


this compares horrendously to other major sports like basketball and football, which both allow players at least five months of off-season down-time. in baseball – where the main physical requirements center around chewing gum, refastening your batting gloves, and scratching yourself – most players have fully four months to recuperate before getting back to the “grind.”


but, lest you think i’m just a whiner, without a plan for action, let me tell you what i’d do to fix pro tennis’ broken calendar system.


i’d move to a schedule where you’d have the aussie in mid-february, french in late april, wimbledon in mid-late-july, and then start the us open the third week of september. we should also scrap the weird fall european indoor swing altogether. keep the early fall indoor tourneys in asia, because we need to build the game’s popularity there. but there’s no reason to go back to europe. the continent’s got more than enough tournaments as it is.


sure, us open-goers won’t want to sacrifice holding their middle weekend over labor day. and i can already hear the organizers of the mid-october swedish open moaning and groaning. but look, sometimes things need to change.


indeed, some of the game’s greatest innovations have met with fierce resistance at first. take instant replay, for example. when it was first suggested that perhaps we should rely on technology instead of human eyeballs to judge the in-ness or out-ness of 140mph serves on which hundreds of thousands of dollars hang in the balance, many scoffed at the idea, lamenting the potential loss of purity such an addition would induce. fortunately for tennis, the luddites lost, and instant replay has become a conspicuous – and almost unambiguously embraced – addition to the game.


the same could happen with the proposal i laid out above. under this framework, you could conceivably end the season in mid-october, and start it in mid- (as opposed to the beginning of) january, providing a three-month off-season. tennis professionals should spend new year’s eve drinking beer with their friends, not preparing for a three-hour grind fest in the 100-degree heat of chennai.


implementing the approach i’ve described would give players a real chance to rest and recuperate, which would help preserve their bodies and extend their careers. the time for a major recalibration of the pro tennis calendar has come. indeed, it is long overdue.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: