Roddick accuses 'ridiculous' calendar of shortening careers

Leading players facing burnout as 11-month season hammers bodies and minds
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The Independent Online

Roger Federer has not travelled here for this week's Shanghai Masters, saying he is exhausted. Andy Murray is not competing either, having aggravated a wrist injury in the Davis Cup just four days after the US Open. Juan Martin del Potro, the champion of New York, is shattered, his fatigue underlined by a defeat last week to the world No 189. Andy Roddick, in his 10th year on the tour treadmill, took just six games off the world No 143 on the same day. Rafael Nadal, his year disrupted by injuries, has not played in a final for five months.

The current state of the game's leading players reinforces the argument of those calling for the men's calendar to be shortened. "It's ridiculous to think that you have a professional sport that doesn't have a legitimate off-season to rest, get healthy and then train," Roddick said here yesterday. "We finish around 30 November and have to be pretty much Grand Slam-ready by 4 January, year after year after year.

"We've been saying for a long time that it's tough to compete 11 months a year, yet we actually end up finishing the season a little bit later now. I don't think it's coincidental that you see Murray and Roger a little bit hurt now, or Rafa missing four months in the middle of the year, or maybe some odd results from Del Potro and myself last week. I just hope that the short-sightedness doesn't affect the length of players' careers. In tennis you definitely want your stars around as long as possible."

The current season began on 5 January and will end on 29 November with the climax of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London, although the best players from the Czech Republic and Spain, including Nadal, will play in the Davis Cup final from 4-6 December. The new season starts 29 days later, only two weeks before the year's first Grand Slam event, the Australian Open.

While the top players are mandated to compete in eight of the nine Masters events and the four Grand Slam tournaments, the rankings structure means they have to play in at least 18 events to maximise their position. Add the Davis Cup, plus personal and sponsors' commitments, and the calendar is quickly filled.

Nadal missed a substantial chunk of this summer, including Wimbledon, after his knees finally buckled under the sheer weight of matches. The Spaniard said yesterday that it was "impossible" to play such a schedule.

"No sport can do that and it means that your career is shorter," he said. "It's impossible to be here playing as I have for the last five years, playing a lot of matches and being 100 per cent all the time. For the last five years I have been No 1 or No 2 in terms of matches played and I was OK, with only a few problems, but sooner or later it becomes impossible.

"I think everybody is working hard to try to change that, but it's difficult because there are a lot of interests involved, a lot of important tournaments, and it's difficult to say when you stop or start. I don't know the solution, but my opinion is that it must be changed and soon."

Roddick, who believes most of the top players share his views, would like the Association of Tennis Professionals, which runs the tour, to follow the lead of the Women's Tennis Association, which has cut its mandatory tournaments and will stage its season finale four weeks before the men's equivalent.

Might the men ultimately go on strike? "That's the last thing that anyone wants to do, but you get pushed against a wall," said Roddick, who agreed that the players might be better served by having a separate union, rather than the current half share of the ATP with the tournament organisers. He added: "I don't know that it's up to the players to be making business decisions about the schedule."

Roddick plays his first match here tonight against Stanislas Wawrinka, while Nadal starts tomorrow against James Blake, who beat Ivo Karlovic in three sets yesterday. The Croat, who has the game's most damaging serve, hit 27 aces but double-faulted on match point. Perhaps he too was feeling the effects of a long season.