Game, set and too many matches: Murray ready to lead strike action

World No 4 believes the season is too long and the demands on top players excessive. Paul Newman examines his grievances

The debate does not quite date back to the days of wooden rackets and white balls, but the grievances over which Andy Murray says players are ready to go on strike will sound familiar to any long-term aficionado of men's tennis. Ever since the sport went Open in 1968 – and especially since the Association of Tennis Professionals launched its world tour in 1990 – there has always been a fundamental conflict between the players and the tournaments.

On the one side the players want to maximise their earnings and gear their seasons around the most important tournaments. On the other, tournament organisers around the world want the best players to take part in as many of their events as possible, ensuring both the success of those competitions and, as a consequence, generating more prize money for those who take part in them.

Many of the leading men – especially Murray and Rafael Nadal, who led the player protests at the recent US Open – believe the balance has swung too far and that the demands on the players have become too great. Murray says that some players are "not afraid" to consider a strike, which could be on the agenda when they discuss their grievances at next month's Shanghai Masters.

The record number of retirements and withdrawals at the US Open underlined the sport's growing physical demands. The length of the season has long been a bone of contention for leading players, who complain the winter break is not long enough to enable them to recover and prepare for the new season. This year's season-ending Barclays ATP World Tour Finals finish in London on 27 November; the 2012 campaign will start just 36 days later, with the first Grand Slam tournament of the year beginning in Melbourne a fortnight later.

The off season has been extended by a further two weeks from next year, but that is by no means the end to the argument. The number of mandatory tournaments is still a particular source of concern for Murray, while the dates for Davis Cup ties are also contentious.

Players ranked in the world's top 30 are required to play in all four Grand Slam tournaments plus eight of the nine Masters Series events. The world rankings – which can be crucial to players' contractual arrangements and have a direct effect on their seedings in tournaments – are based on points earned in 18 different competitions: four Grand Slam events (2,000 points for the winner), eight in the Masters Series (1,000 points), four of the 11 World Tour 500 tournaments (500 points) and two World Tour 250 events (250 points) or Challengers. The top eight players also compete in the World Tour Finals.

The first Masters Series events are in March and they continue through the year, with the last two in Shanghai in October and in Paris in November, giving few opportunities to take a break. One of the four mandatory World Tour 500 tournaments has to be in Asia after the US Open, after which some players would like to wind their seasons down.

Players can be penalised with fines or even suspensions for pulling out of mandatory tournaments without a valid reason. They can also be given "zero-pointers", meaning they receive no ranking points for the tournament and are not allowed to replace them with points earned from other events. The top players can also command big appearance fees at tournaments below Masters Series level but do not get to play in many because of the number of mandatory events.

While the rules ensure that the best players compete in the best tournaments, Murray believes there are too many mandatory events. "I just think there should be way fewer mandatory tournaments," he said.

"I just think guys should be able to pick and choose their tournaments, particularly if they have injuries or need surgery. It can make a huge difference to rankings and points. The difference between finishing between, say, No 4 and No 8 in the world could be a huge amount, a lot of money as well, in terms of contracts. I just think if the players are protected a little bit more, then you'd have more guys playing for longer."

There are usually three Davis Cup dates just a week after the end of Grand Slam tournaments, when the top players are often exhausted. Last weekend a jaded Murray played for Britain in Glasgow, while Novak Djokovic pulled out of his first rubber for Serbia in Belgrade and had to retire in the second set of the second. Roger Federer flew to Australia to play for Switzerland, while Nadal represented Spain in Cordoba.

During the current debate there have been renewed calls for the players to form their own union, but the ATP – an alliance of players and tournaments which runs nearly all events other than the Grand Slam tournaments and Davis Cup – says it is committed to finding a solution. The ATP board comprises three representatives of the players, three from the tournaments and the executive chairman, Adam Helfant, who is leaving at the end of the year and has yet to be replaced. His successor will need to be a true diplomat.

Suggested Topics
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada
Birthplace of Arab Spring in turmoil as angry Tunisians stage massive sit-in over lack of development

They shall not be moved: jobless protesters bring Tunisia to a halt

A former North African boom town is wasting away while its unemployed citizens stick steadfastly to their sit-in
David Hasselhoff's new show 'Hoff the Record': What's it like working with a superstar?

Hanging with the Hoff

Working with David Hasselhoff on his new TV series was an education for Ella Smith
Can Dubai's Design District 'hipster village' attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?

Hipsters of Arabia

Can Dubai’s ‘creative village’ attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?
The cult of Roger Federer: What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?

The cult of Roger Federer

What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?
Kuala Lumpur's street food: Not a 'scene', more a way of life

Malaysian munchies

With new flights, the amazing street food of Kuala Lumpur just got more accessible
10 best festival beauty

Mud guards: 10 best festival beauty

Whether you're off to the Isle of Wight, Glastonbury or a local music event, we've found the products to help you
Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe

A Different League

Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe, says Pete Jenson
Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey - Steve Bunce

Steve Bunce on Boxing

Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf