Henman in warning over schedule

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The Independent Online

Before turning his thoughts to the Masters Cup , Tim Henman warned his fellow players and the fragmented factions running the sport of the need to revise the calendar before tennis trails even more behind golf in public affection and the television market place.

Self-interest, Henman said, has produced an overcrowded and unbalanced schedule of tennis tournaments and fostered a culture of "looking after No 1". Consequently, leading players on the ATP Tour continue to pull out of showpiece events, either because of injuries or the need to rest.

Tournament directors of the nine ATP Masters Series events are due to discuss the crisis during the Masters Cup in Houston, which starts a week next Monday.

"Why are there there nine Masters Series?" Henman said. "Is nine the right number? I don't think it is. Could we have a Masters Series in Asia [before the lead up to Australian Open]? These are all huge issues.

"You look at golf. The prize-money in tennis was much bigger than golf eight or 10 years ago. Tiger Woods has played a big part in changing that. But look at it now. Not just Vijay Singh this year, but look at the top 20 earners and you look at the reason why [they earned so much]. It's terrestrial television.

"When the Grand Slams are negotiating with the television companies, we need to work together. If the BBC want Wimbledon, then they need to show other tournaments."

Henman, 30, who turned professional in 1993 and has won $10,406,840m in his career, said: "Everybody needs to come together, put egos and personal issues aside, and say, 'How are we going to make this better?'.

"We need to start with the four Grand Slams [Wimbledon, the US Open, the French Open, and the Australian Open], because they are the pinnacle of our game. The first tournament of the year is a Grand Slam, then we don't play one for five months, then we play two 15 days apart."

A meeting of the directors of the European Masters Series here this week proposed that the ATP Tour revive the bonus pool, a financial reward for the players who fulfilled their commitments. Opponents of the scheme contend that it induces players to compete even if they are carrying injuries.

Andre Agassi, 34, said recently: "Every top player's agenda is to keep themselves at their best. No matter what you do with the schedule, you're always going to have issues with basic health needs and the demands on your body."

Lleyton Hewitt, who was due to play Marat Safin in the quarter-finals at the Paris Masters yesterday, admitted that although he has qualified for the Masters Cup, his priority is to prepare himself for the Australian Open, his home Grand Slam, next January.

"I'll be worrying more about the Australian Open," Hewitt said, his attitude influenced by the fact that Roger Federer will end the year as No 1 whatever happens in Houston.

* Venus Williams and Vera Zvonareva won their second-round matches at the Advanta Championships in Philadelphia to remain in the chase for places in next week's end-of-season tournament. Williams, who is battling her sister Serena, Zvonareva and Jennifer Capriati for the two remaining berths in the WTA Tour Championships, reached the quarter-finals by defeating Ukraine's Yuliana Fedak 6-4, 2-6, 7-6. Russia's Zvonareva, who must win in Philadelphia to clinch a spot in the élite eight-player field in Los Angeles next week, also needed three sets to beat Nathalie Dechy, of France, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.