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The grind

A shorter schedule would benefit everyone in tennis

Posted: Monday October 3, 2005 12:31PM; Updated: Monday October 3, 2005 12:39PM
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A badly limping Serena Williams lost in the first round of last month's China Open to local favorite Sun Tiantian.
A badly limping Serena Williams lost in the first round of last month's China Open to local favorite Sun Tiantian.
AP
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TOKYO -- Tennis is the only professional sport that has no significant off-season. It's ridiculous.

Most players head Down Under for the Australian Open a few days after Christmas and don't end the year until the following November. That means that, after traveling the world playing a sport that is both physically and emotional grueling, we get about six weeks off to recharge our batteries.

Sadly, the reality of that equates to about two weeks of putting the rackets in the closet before having to work on your game and build strength for the upcoming year. That would be the equivalent of reporting to training camp just two weeks after the World Series, the NBA Finals or the Super Bowl ended.

There would be so many benefits to shortening the ATP and WTA calendar. First and foremost, it would protect players' health. Some of the reasons players get hurt so often are that they don't get adequate rest and they rush back from injuries that aren't fully healed.

Then there is the emotional benefit of a shorter schedule. Everyone plays better when they're excited and inspired. But the reality is that it is impossible to feel that way when you are as beaten down as professional tennis makes you during the course of the year. I am playing in the AIG Japan Open this week, and six of the top-ranked payers in the tournament withdrew due to injury.

If you pull a draw from any of the big WTA events this past summer, you would see an inordinate amount of withdrawals or defaults because players were hurt. Last month's China Open featured four of the biggest names in women's tennis: Maria Sharapova, Lindsay Davenport and Venus and Serena Williams.

Of those four, Serena was the only one to be eliminated in actual match play, and she was badly limping by the time she lost in the first round to unheralded Sun Tiantian. Davenport withdrew before the event even began, and Venus withdrew after winning one match. Sharapova was the workhorse of the week, withdrawing in the middle of her semifinal match with Maria Kirilenko.

How could this be good for tennis? While it is important to grow the game and provide as many opportunities for professional tennis players as possible, we need to foster quality, not quantity, in the sport. The only way to do that is to shorten the schedule.

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