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Blog: Why re-work the calendar?

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Originally published on: 16/02/12 00:00

By Jamie Renton

Remember the Australian Open final? You know, the one that went five hours and 53 minutes, caused twenty bloody toes (probably) and left the two combatants in need of a couple of chairs to ease the burden on those burning legs choc-a-bloc with lactic acid?

Yes, that final. Seems a long time ago now doesn’t it?

It’s been a full nineteen days, since you asked for specifics, and in that time the two heroic participants have made the most of their well-earned breaks. Novak Djokovic went skiing on the slopes of Kopaonik in his native Serbia with brothers, friends and girlfriend, while Rafael Nadal once again retreated from his crazy life on tour to his native Manacor, via a quick half-naked stop inside the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated.

Don't get me wrong, Djokovic and Nadal are due a little R & R after contesting the longest Grand Slam final in history and their time off is absolutely deserved, but the break between now and their next tournament doesn’t half undermine arguments from both towards the end of 2011 that the season is too long.

While Djokovic is not due to compete until the Dubai event in late February, Nadal will not contest a professional match until at least March 8th, when Indian Wells will offer its latest men’s champion a colossal $1million for the first time. That’s a gap of 40 days in all – 40 days! Professional sports don’t compare to our humble lives in the office, granted, but 40 days is almost double a mere mortal's annual holiday allowance and there’ll be plenty more downtime for the elite men before the year is out.

Djokovic has featured in just one tour event this year, Nadal two. By contrast, Federer, at 30, has played in Doha, Melbourne, at the Davis Cup and now in Rotterdam.

Yet the ATP calendar has already seen 10 events come and go this year, with three more due to be completed by this Sunday. Not to suggest the top players should be playing more, far from it, just that they have no need to complain. Lowly ranked players will fight tooth and nail in numerous more tournaments that the big four have no obligation to attend before the leaders of the pack finally all turn up together in the Californian desert.

This year is busier than ever for the sport as tennis turns ‘amateur’ again for the Olympics, but while gripes with the length of the calendar are certain to re-surface a few months down the line, a carefully managed schedule is all that's really needed.

The problem is, the top players don’t want to miss out on their chance to pick up points, titles and the accompanying fat cheques. In the best era the game has ever seen, it’s all about gaining an upper hand at any available opportunity as the Djoker continues to begger belief at the front of the bunch.

The age-old criticism of the Willliams sisters is they show up for the slams and little else. They have other interests in life, other goals and plenty else to keep them occupied outside of tennis. On the men’s tour, however, succeeding above the other three fine talents that prop up the game is a goal above any other. The players criticise the calendar because they want to remain on top. They want to be fresh for the biggest events. To give each and every one their best shot. But it comes at a cost.

"It's impossible to be here playing like what I did the last five years, playing a lot of matches and being all the time 100 percent without problems," Nadal said last year.

That’s the problem though isn’t it? Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Murray have raised the bar for the sport to the extent that they can barely play the eight Masters series events expected of them.

Does the sport change to accommodate their level and make it easier for them to perform? Or do we let them pay the price for pushing the boundaries?

Why shouldn’t the calendar be arduous to the extent that it is virtually impossible to dominate?

Most favour the underdog after all.

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