Tennis: Becker's plea for slimmer ATP tour

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The Independent Online
The former Wimbledon champion Boris Becker has called for more matches between top players and fewer tournaments on the ATP tour and branded the system governing men's tennis as "sick".

"What happened at the end of last season must not happen again. That was damaging for tennis," Becker said in reference to the withdrawal of several top players before the ATP Championship final.

"All these withdrawals show that the ATP must slim down. Fewer tournaments would mean higher quality," he added, just a day after the world No 1, Pete Sampras, pulled out of the forthcoming Australian Open, complaining of exhaustion.

Becker also said that more matches between top-ranking players would help to lure back crowds. "You have to make sure there are more duels between top players. You can't wait until August before Pete Sampras plays a particular top-10 player. That indicates that the system is sick," he said.

Becker, who is in semi-retirement and has taken a job with the German Tennis Federation, made his comments against the backdrop of a sharp drop in the sport's popularity in Germany. No worthy successors have emerged to either Becker or Steffi Graf, who has been struggling to come back from chronic injury problems.

The world No 2, Marcelo Rios, also described the men's circuit as "boring and unfair", and said the ATP's ranking system put top players at a disadvantage. "If you are at the top, the system punishes you all the more," Rios said. "That's why the top players are so worn out and boring."

The Chilean railed against attempts to repackage men's tennis and curb the kind of maverick behaviour with which he is associated. "It is schizophrenic, and is the tour's biggest problem, that they want characters but forbid any passion," he said. "I would promote, and not ban, passion."

Lindsay Davenport has said she understands Sampras's decision to withdraw from the Australian Open. Competing at the Hopman Cup mixed team tournament in Perth, she said: "I was really shocked when I heard about it, but the more you think about it, the more you understand it. Sometimes you just need to force yourself to take a break. He was clearly fatigued at the end of the year, and he deserves a break."

At the Hopman Cup, South Africa's Amanda Coetzer and Wayne Ferreira dashed the hopes of the home crowd yesterday when they disposed of their Australian opponents 2-1 in the opening session.

Coetzer set off at a cracking pace and overwhelmed the Belgrade-born Australian Jelena Dokic 6-1, 6-0, in just 47 minutes. Dokic, 15, is the world's top-ranked junior woman but has little experience against the sport's big names.

Ferreira then secured the tie, much to the disappointment of 7,500 fans crammed inside the Burswood Dome, by eclipsing the US Open finalist Mark Philippoussis 6-2, 6-3.

The organisers of the Kooyong Classic - the curtain- raiser to the Australian Open - have approached America's Michael Chang to fill the vacancy caused by the withdrawal of Sampras from both tournaments.