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Dunk a Clown 12/01/2008 - 6:00 PM

by Pete Bodo

A bit of housekeeping first: this morning, I received a note from a long-time reader and weblog editrix Aaress Lawless (cool name, huh?). TennisWorld has been nominated in On the Baseline's annual awards, in the weblog category. I've never paid much attention to "official" awards or contests, but as this is a group effort, I'm inviting you to check it out and vote if you're so inclined (just go here). You can also vote for your favorite players in any number of categories.

Lendl I've got a post going up on ESPN soon on a subject we discussed here some weeks ago, the great "tennis needs an off-season" debate. I covered much of the same ground we explored back then, but I also had a few afterthoughts, starting with the fact that tennis has a kind of "magic number" in the match stats, which is the number of matches played by anyone in any given year. This year, for example, Rafael Nadal was 82-11 in singles, and Roger Federer ended up 66-15.

Whatever else you want to say about The Mighty Fed's year, you can't exactly say he overplayed; Nadal himself had 12 more matches. For perspective, keep in mind that in 1977, Guillermo Vilas's best year, the Iron Man of the Open era posted an astonishing 145-14 match record, although I'm having trouble confirming that it was exclusively in singles (Vilas played very limited doubles throughout his career, so I doubt too many - if any - of those wins were put up on doubs).

I know for certain that Vilas's singles record in just the last six months of 1977 (his best year) was 80-1. The former no. 1 Ivan Lendl put up some formidable numbers, too. In 1980, Lendl went 113-29. And in 1979, John McEnroe played 177 official matches. He won 27 events (17 of them doubles titles) that year alone, although he's better remembered for that glorious 1984, in which he went  82-3 in singles. That winning percentage (.965) remains the best on record.

When you start throwing those number around, it seems that, for better or worse, 100 matches represents a high but attainable and sustainable number, and especially if, like me, you don't necessarily believe that the competition is incomparably better today than it was in the heydays of the players mentioned above. If I had to pin down a date for when the game really took a quantum leap, in terms of overall quality, I would probably pick some moment in the early careers of Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg.

One reason I feel comfortable making that judgment is because the competition at any given time is no tougher - or easier - than the players themselves make it. Tennis, certainly in the early Open era but even today, is driven by a gold-rush sensibility, and because it's such an individualistic, wide-open enterprise(a reasonably good college player is always just a few qualifying events away from treading the lawns of Wimbledon, or prowling the hard courts of Flushing Meadow), both the motivation and pressure to stay on pace is high. Someone ups the ante on skill, fitness or even the number of events entered, you almost have to prepare a response.

The moment someone dials it up on either of two levels - results, or dedication - the pack seems to follow, like a school of those tropical fish that moves by a snorkeler in a wave so smooth it almost constitutes a pattern. There are just too many good players, many of whom have the requisite pride, for anyone to pull a fast one and simply out-want his or her peers. The sport embodies the old saw about a rising tide lifting all boats, if the talent of a Borg, Navratilova or a Federer can be described as a tide.

Or let's look at it this way: most players would give their left arms (excepting those who use a two-handed backhand) to be able to play 100 matches a year. That represents a heavy but by no means unique load for a top player, but a quick scan of the rankings shows just how few players even have the option. Nikolay Davydenko, a hard-working and highly successful player (the year-end no. 5), squeezed in 77 matches last year - fully a quarter below our threshhold.

Andy Roddick? The world no. 8, squeezed in just 67. And David Nalbandian, an international star and icon in Argentina, was limited to 60 matches. Gael Monfils, no. 14 in the world, played 47 singles matches. Was the tennis year too long and demanding for these familiar names, too?

It seems to me that far more players don't get enough matches, instead of getting too many. Yet almost all of them will complain about the grind of the ATP or WTA schedule. I think the real issue here may be the proliferation of weeks during which players are expected to perform at their peak. That is, if you just won Rome, it's pretty tempting to show up on Hamburg two days later and start kvetching about how tired you are - especially when all you see ahead of you is a winding trail of events, each of them incorporating a certain degree of pressure created by your past performance, the rankings, the need to make hay while the sun shines on your chosen field of play. The grind may be more debilitating mentally than physically, but we already know that the two areas are interrelated.

But let's set aside this issue of how many matches an upper-echelon pro ought to be able to play.

I've written before that tennis is an "interval" sport, with periods of rest alternating with moments of high stress created by the demand to perform. That demand has been inflated in recent years by the change in the status of the ATP, which has morphed from player union into tour organizer and (to some degree) promoter. The real problem therein is that the top players carry the sport, but under the present system their contribution is, as a matter of policy, ignored. You're not supposed to find out that there is indeed a golden goose in tennis, and it just keeps layin' 'em.

So an elite few may complain that they have to play far, far, too many matches, while very good players ranked not that far below them are entitled to complain about lack of matches (and, by extension, lack of confidence-building and bank account-padding chances). You don't hear such complaints voiced by the ATP or WTA hoi polloi for an honorable reason - those players know they're not earning the right to play more.

In the end, though, whatever your sense of justice or player solidarity is, it seems indisputable that TMF and Rafa are asked to shoulder a big work load in order to enable the Monfils and Cilics and Nicolas Almagros of this world to get enough matches. In that regard, top tennis players qualify as extraordinary humanitarians (I wonder if they could qualify for tax breaks, under some "charitable organization" provision), even as they sit on the sidelines watching their rivals woeful inability to capitalize on the inherent opportunity. Federer and Nadal are like two clowns, forced week-after-week to sit on the perch in the dunk-a-clown tank while a bunch of guys who mostly can't throw straight expend their energies.

When you look at this situation, you might better understand the beauty of the Challenge Round concept that was used in tournament play and Davis Cup back in the early days. Back then, the defending champion didn't have to play the early rounds (he'd already proved his worth); the tournament was held to determine a worthy opponent for the holder. The shortcomings of the format in today's world are glaring but, oddly enough, they have nothing to do what might be called the pure logic of sport. Why shouldn't the defending champ be entitled to sit out?

The sport most like tennis is boxing, and once a fighter gets to be champion of his division, he no longer has to slug his way through a slew of tomato cans in order to meet his top challengers. And it's important to note that individual and team sports are very different; the personnel on any give team changes year-to-year, and the weak link on a successful team doesn't have the same "right" to enjoy his status as do the handful of key performers.

If you think this idea is really crazy, just apply it. Imagine that the defending champ at any given event has a free pass to the final. It would have zero impact on, say, Monfils - as he didn't win an event in 2008. But TMF would get a free pass at four events in 2009, including the US Open (and remember, he struggled some this year), while Nadal would be exempt at eight events, including two Grand Slams - leaving him free to focus on those events where he was weaker. And keep this in mind: You would only be losing one star from every event - a hit that would be offset by the publicity generated by all the speculation leading up to any Grand Slam final where the holder is sequestered.

Hail, he or she wouldn't even be sequestered. You could easily ask the defender to be present for promotional purposes leading up the the final. The holder's preparation for his defense certainly would be closely watched by the most interested parties (like his native media).

This won't happen, of course. But I wish it would. Once the system got rolling, it would also add an extra dimension of intrigue, and more players would get the opportunity to break through (although that, in and of itself, is neither here nor there, value-wise). Anybody want to figure out how many players got shot to doll rags by Federer at Wimbledon in recent years, or by Nadal at Roland Garros?  Currently, the champion at any event is an impediment - the bullet in the chamber every player has to spin on the eve of the draw, and each round thereafter until he expires from causes natural or otherwise.

And ultimately, wouldn't a Challenge Round be a better solution than cutting back the calendar - especially if you acknowledge that the vast majority of players would prefer more to fewer playing opportunities.  Another interesting potential outcome here would be the prospect of top players supporting lesser events, because instead of pulling out of warm-up tournaments, the holder at Grand Slams would be inclined to play them, knowing that he or she will get plenty of rest during the first 13 days of any major. . .

Scoff at me if you will; the earth is only as round as you want it to be.


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Posted by NP 12/01/2008 at 06:01 PM

The title sounds like an NBA exhibition.

Posted by Jackie 12/01/2008 at 06:04 PM

Or "Doink the Clown." I have problems.

Now on to read.

Posted by Maha (Long live QUEEN and The Mighty Federer) 12/01/2008 at 06:08 PM

Hmmm I'm not first anyway so why bother.
I dunno what to say about the post really, I'm having a bit of a dumb blonde moment (LOL cuz I'm anything BUT blonde) but...

Hey Pete!!! TW's been nominated!!! That is SOOO cool. Long live the TWibe!!! We rock! You rock! Roger Federer rocksssssss!!!!!! (knew that was coming, didn't ya, everyone?)

Posted by Maha (Long live QUEEN and The Mighty Federer) 12/01/2008 at 06:12 PM

Hey..... dumb blonde moment over... I DO have an opinion!!!!!!!
Rafa may have played 12 more matches than Roger, but Roger is 5 years older, too!!!!
Besides, hate to say it but... he would played a lot more if he hadn't wasted so many tournaments by losing in the first or second round.
LOL!!!!

Posted by Jackie 12/01/2008 at 06:16 PM

And Pete, I'm thrilled about the nomination! Go us. :) Kudos on your nom, as well.

crazyone will be upset that Triple P's website didn't make the cut in the "Best Official Player Website" category. ;)

Posted by Jackie 12/01/2008 at 06:17 PM

Oh, DUH. Ladies only. NOW who's having a blond moment.

Posted by Syd 12/01/2008 at 06:19 PM

Pete,

Congratulations to you and you're helpers. (got Christmas on the brain.)
Really, terrific—it is one hail of a blogsite, no doubt about it. :)

Posted by Maha (Long live QUEEN and The Mighty Federer) 12/01/2008 at 06:23 PM

Jackie!!!!! All this award business reminds me.... When are the TW poster awards??????

Posted by Arun 12/01/2008 at 06:24 PM

Pete: Congrats on TW being nominated in On the Baseline's annual awards. You blog deserves it.

And, I don't think the "Challenge Round" would be a good idea. That ruins so many potentially good matches and rivalries, ranking/race points scenarios. It would also mean that the other players trying to win a championship will have nothing in their favor when they face-off against the already mighty defending champions.

btw, where.is.Tari?

Posted by Arun 12/01/2008 at 06:24 PM

*Your blog deserves it.

Posted by ptenisnet 12/01/2008 at 06:26 PM

For one thing, i'll bet the challenge system would lead to a lot less successful title defenses (Willie Renshaw notwithstanding)
I think these guys on average play a similar number of tournaments. The actual number of matches is a matter of degree of success in the tournaments themselves.

Plus how would you do the challenge system? Play a regular wimbledon and the champion, instead of getting a trophy, gets a shot at the defending champion?

Posted by Aaress 12/01/2008 at 06:29 PM

Pete, it has been a pleasure to read your site since you first started blogging in 2005. I loved reading your coverage of the Australian Open nearly four years ago---and that same enjoyment continues today. Thank you for linking to our awards and we wish you the best!

Posted by ptenisnet 12/01/2008 at 06:29 PM

Also how would you assess ranking points for a defending champion?

Posted by Maha (a.k.a. George - Long Live Sergeant Federer's Lonely Hearts Club Band) 12/01/2008 at 06:37 PM

This round challenge business is thoroughly confusing. I understand the complexities of equations of motion in physics better than this stuff.

Posted by Samantha Elin 12/01/2008 at 06:39 PM

Pete, congrats to you and TW. This is by far the best tennis website. You can get any infro here. How about Connors. Somebody needs to grow up real fast. Go Caroline, Scandinavia's#1!

Posted by Violetta 12/01/2008 at 06:51 PM

Pete-Congrats on the nominations! It's well deserved, since you and your cohorts run the best and most interesting tennis blog on the Internets, bar none.

The "Challenge Round" is an intriguing idea, and I can see the value in lower ranked players not having to meet the champion in the early rounds (Gulbis anyone?). However, there is already so much controversy about preferential treatment in terms of scheduling at grand slams that I don't think fans would easily accept it. Imagine a tired Federer who's sloughed through two weeks of Monfils and Nalbadians facing a fresh Rafa. Somehow I don't see that scenario being popular.

Posted by Syd 12/01/2008 at 07:02 PM

Have to agree with Violetta. I cannot image a tournament where the defending player did not have to meet all comers. I think that was a crazy idea back when and still is. It would give the defending champion a massive advantage and make it a lopsided affair—and that's not what is exciting about tennis. What is exciting is to see the very best make their way through round by round.

Posted by Mr. and Mrs. D. 12/01/2008 at 07:09 PM

Interesting read. Who exactly is complaining about the long season? Top 20 only, maybe top ten, or just top 5? I suppose the extensive travel is also exhausting for those players who are playing a lot of tournaments but, unfortunately, not so many matches.

Posted by aussiemarg{rafa nadal,no 1 player,long may he reign} 12/01/2008 at 07:15 PM

pete congratulations,from the stubborn Mallorcan baseliner,no?

Posted by jb (I want a puppy and a pony!) 12/01/2008 at 07:15 PM

Congrats on the nominations Pete! You may not care - but its nice that someone somewhere is reading, no? :)

In all the hullabaloo re: the calendar etc, it IS tempting to ignore those players who aren't in the finals week in week out, (top 2 anyone?) and the fact that they're not complaining about the schedule. or at least about having another tourney to go to when they've been knocked out of an event!

As for the winner being the defender... I suspect that ptenis is correct, there would be far fewer successful defenses of titles with the challenge system. NOT playing can be a distinct disadvantage to a player.

I can't imagine going into a final with no match play. Look how many tough matches there are in the first rounds of masters series tourneys - there's just no gimmees while the players are trying to find their games. Going straight to the final round could show us some ugly tennis.

I do sort of like the image of fed / rafa on a bench, just waiting to be dunked though. :) I've often thought of them as cutting their path through the other players, just waiting for someone to step up and compete against them week in, week out. Should be interesting to see who may try doing that next year.

Posted by aussiemarg{rafa nadal,no 1 player,long may he reign} 12/01/2008 at 07:20 PM

I for one,quite excited for season 2009,we have seen so many break through players this year,its great to see we are going to have a more even playing field,2009 hey,bring it on,i say!

Posted by Jackie 12/01/2008 at 07:25 PM

Maha, the TW Awards will be happening in a few weeks - probably last week of December. I'll be gathering nominations in the meantime, so please e-mail me at [email protected] with your ideas!

Posted by jb (I want a puppy and a pony!) 12/01/2008 at 07:27 PM

Syd - i dunno, i don't see coming in with no match play as much of an advantage. tennis is a game of rhythm and confidence, coming in cold to tourneys and being expected to play the final would be pretty rough imo. and it would be pretty easy to get on a losing streak very quickly.

perhaps a compromise would work, where the defending champ jumped in at a quarter? (but still, it could get ugly, just sayin'..!)

Posted by Syd 12/01/2008 at 07:36 PM

jb:

Well, there is that side to the argument as well, that it actually could be a disadvantage. But, as you say the idea of the top guys cutting a path through the other players is a thrilling one. And conversely, someone out of the pack taking down a top player, is also exciting. Besides, it gives the younger players great experience playing the champion. On top of that, who is going to buy tickets to watch a week's worth of seeing the lesser lights play for a week?

Posted by ptenisnet 12/01/2008 at 07:36 PM

This is already being done in the form of 1st round byes for the top seeds.

I guess a compromise would be to extend the bye to the 4th round or quarters for the top 4 players. But that still seems like a lot of all or nothing points hanging in the balance. And every round of bye means one less player gets to play.

Posted by Jackie 12/01/2008 at 07:36 PM

Ah, interesting ideas brought up by Pete - and all of you. I dunno, I sort of think managing a wretched schedule is all part of being the best ... it's the burden of being a champion. If you can't deal with it, then that says something too, no?

Or perhaps I've oversimplified things ...

Posted by foible 12/01/2008 at 07:36 PM

'the earth is only as round as you want it to be.'

That's what the bankers said.

Champions EARN their title/s. Just because one won the title last year does not ENTITLE him/her to do the least work and remain the champion.

This system you propose would probably lead to a weird athletic hegemony where past champions are coddled at the expense of everyone, and also the credibility of the sport.

Posted by foible 12/01/2008 at 07:38 PM

According to this bloke, the world is flat:

http://www.thomaslfriedman.com/bookshelf/the-world-is-flat

Posted by Ruth 12/01/2008 at 07:42 PM

People who are more knowledgeable about tennis than I have written about and explained why playing 100 matches in 2008 can be much more debilitating that playing 149 matches 20 years ago. They cite, among many other points, the way that the modern technology encourages players to go for more and puts more pressure on their bodies; they point to the increased number of tournaments on hardcourts; and they refer to the way that tournamnnts are now more widely spread all over the world and the wear and tear that increased international travel puts on the human body.

Therefore, Pete, I would not compare the workload of players who are closer to my age (or even yours, young man!) with the workload of the players do today. Example: I looked at Borg, Connors, and Gerulaitis playing the Pepsi Slam finals on TC last weekend, and I couldn't help feeling that, after their matches (on clay BTW), they could easily have gone out and played another match. I do not get the same feeling after watching most men's and women's matches in 2008.

As for the schedule, I am in favor of there being as many tourneys as there are now to allow ALL players enough opportunity to make a living, but the events could probably be better spaced over either a compact 9-month season or a longer season with 2 or 3 built-in breaks.

Finally, any player who is a real competitor will tend to play as many matches as he/she needs to be at the top of the rankings of his/her sport. Therefore, I feel that both Tours need to seriously consider developing a ranking system that rewards quality over quantity.

Yes, tennis is a business, and the Tours need to encourage players to play more than a small amount of events; but it is silly and econimcally suicidal to have a ranking system that encourages and rewards overwork and results in more injuries of players.

Let's face it...Nadal played that as many events this year (even though he knew that doing so would aggravate his tendinitis) because he wanted to be #1, just as Roger did this year and in the years when he was #1, and just as any player who wants to be #1 would do.

Posted by mina (Arwen wannabe) 12/01/2008 at 07:44 PM

congrats on the nomination, Pete!

*off to the day job*

Posted by ms. tangerine popsicle (tangi) 12/01/2008 at 07:46 PM

Hi ya jb,

You beat me to it! I was going to mention that the players with byes in the Masters tourneys often seem to struggle in their first match playing against an opponent who already has a match under his belt. Certainly my BFed always has to play his way into form. I don't think Fed would fare well under a Challenge Round system.

Syd,

You bring up an excellent point! Can you imagine Fed or Rafa playihg only one match at a tournament? It would severely limit the opportunities for fans to see them play. I'm sure it would hurt ticket sales in the earlier rounds, too.

Hi, Jackie! :)

Posted by Jackie 12/01/2008 at 07:49 PM

*gasp*

TANGI!!! How ARE you? Did you enjoy Thanksgiving?

(Wait, are we not allowed to go OT here?)

Posted by ms. tangerine popsicle (tangi) 12/01/2008 at 07:51 PM

How 'bout I meet you on the other thread, Jackie? :)

Posted by Andrew Miller 12/01/2008 at 07:54 PM

Hello Mr. Bodo and TennisWorld. Good argument but this appears to have left out one thing: GEOGRAPHY. In 1977, Guillermo Vilas apparently split his time between South America, Europe, Australia, South Africa, and the U.S. - with the vast majority of those matches being played in the U.S., Europe, and South America.

Simply, it seems more GEOGRAPHICALLY CONVENIENT to have played more matches for Vilas. I went ahead and listed where he played and how many matches in each continent/country in 1977. It is highly unlikely that any player, save maybe an American playing during the summer and doing well (much as Roddick does during the summer circuit, or Nadal playing the clay court swing) will see so many consecutive tournaments in one GEOGRAPHIC area. So playing this much almost makes sense. Check it out.

- Australia, 7 matches
- U.S., 5 matches, 5 matches, 3 matches, 6 matches, 4 matches (Consecutive)
- South Africa, 5 matches
- France, 5 matches
- Monte Carlo, 3 matches
- Argentina, 4 matches
- U.S., 4 matches
- Germany, 4 matches
- Rome, 2 matches
- France, 7 matches
- England, 1 match, 2 matches, 3 matches
- Austria, 5 matches,
- U.S., 6 matches, 6 matches, 5 matches, 6 matches, 7 matches
- Davis Cup, Argentina, 2 matches
- France, 5 matches, 5 matches
- Iran, 6 matches
- South America, 5 matches, 5 matches, 5 matches
- South Africa, 5 matches

Posted by rafadoc 12/01/2008 at 08:00 PM

Interesting Pete...

"The sport most like tennis is boxing, and once a fighter gets to be champion of his division, he no longer has to slug his way through a slew of tomato cans in order to meet his top challengers"

Good point. But, I also think it is tough for a defending champ to come out cold and play at the level needed to win a successive championship-but maybe that is how the playing field is leveled, so to speak. I think I like your prior idea of spreading the season out with more options built in for player participation better.

Congrats on the nomination! Hope TW wins!

Gauloises: Have I been relegated to "Lady" status? I have lost track-does the crown now sit back with you?

Posted by Andrew Miller 12/01/2008 at 08:05 PM

Ok, perhaps my argument does not work, given that Nadal, Federer, Roddick and others actually appear to meticulously plan their schedules. Nonetheless - I think that Vilas playing 11 tournaments in the U.S. is something interesting. I am not even sure if I could name 11 tournaments in the U.S. in 2008.

Here's a try.
Las Vegas
Los Angeles
Arizona
U.S. Open
Indian Wells
Cincinatti
Newport
Washington DC
Memphis

There you have it, I am spent!

Posted by ms. tangerine popsicle (tangi) 12/01/2008 at 08:06 PM

Andrew Miller! Nice to see you again. Your posts are always so informative. :)

It's hard to believe that anyone could play 150+ singles matches in a year. Boggles the mind, actually.

Posted by jb (I want a puppy and a pony!) 12/01/2008 at 08:07 PM

yeah ptenis - i realized that popping into a masters level at a quarter is almost where they are now. it would be more of a break in a slam to drop into the quarters.

make no mistake, i don't think the 'challenge' scenario would be one I would care for, as i do enjoy seeing the previous yr's champ 'earn his stripes' again by going through ALL the levels. though its usually pretty tough on the poor person who gets them in the draw....

Posted by ms. tangerine popsicle (tangi) 12/01/2008 at 08:08 PM

You forgot the Masters Series tourney in Miami, Andrew. :) Which tourney is held in Arizona?

Posted by Andrew Miller 12/01/2008 at 08:13 PM

Thank you much Ms. Tangerine Popsicle - I definitely missed the Miami one (and I even attended it!)
I also missed the Delray Beach, Fl event. Nonetheless -

I thought there was a tournament in Scottsdale, AZ - the one that Vince Spadea won for his first ever (I think his only) win

Posted by ptenisnet 12/01/2008 at 08:14 PM

delray beach
san jose
indy
new haven

Posted by Andrew Miller 12/01/2008 at 08:15 PM

Otherwise, I voted the straight ticket (all TennisWorld, all Pete Bodo) for those tennis writing awards.

It was a honor. I really appreciate that tennis magazine exists. So few people know how to write about tennis, and the vast majority of them work for tennis magazine and tennis.com.

Posted by Andrew Miller 12/01/2008 at 08:16 PM

There we have it - 14 tournaments in the U.S.

But if Vilas played 11 in 1977, how many tournaments must there have been?

Posted by ms. tangerine popsicle (tangi) 12/01/2008 at 08:17 PM

Well done, ptenisnet. You're smokin' tonight. Or did you cheat and look it up?

Posted by ptenisnet 12/01/2008 at 08:21 PM

I knew those, but I would definitely have missed Arizona, LA and Newport

Posted by ms. tangerine popsicle (tangi) 12/01/2008 at 08:24 PM

So you DID cheat. At least you're an honest cheater. :)

Posted by ptenisnet 12/01/2008 at 08:34 PM

i usually shoot for optimal honesty.

Posted by Annie 12/01/2008 at 08:40 PM

'Evening sports fans. very interesting post by andrew miller. thank you. i counted up and figured that Vilas played 36 weeks of tennis in '77. with ALL those matches it still left him 12-14 weeks off. Geography plays a huge role in this I think. Today's top players are making at least 2 or more trips to the Far East.
I don't know. If vilas could pull off 140+ matches, i don't know what rafa and fed are complaining about really...
now back to the beatles songbook for inspiration...

Posted by crazyone 12/01/2008 at 08:48 PM

hey guys! I've been away from a computer mostly and fairly busy over the past few days and things are going to continue that way for a few days, but I couldn't resist responding to this:

crazyone will be upset that Triple P's website didn't make the cut in the "Best Official Player Website" category. ;)

I AM OUTRAGED.

Posted by malimeda 12/01/2008 at 09:02 PM

The matchload is being aggravated by travelling. And time-zones that bring jet-lag. And climate change. And food & water & bed & air quality change. Chronic tiredness ensue, immunity system suffers.

And then, constantly living out of suitcase can start to stink pretty quick. Packing and unpacking. Practically every week.

Just check out the mountain of luggage Rafa puts in car on his way to airport from Paris after last year's RG:
http://tinyurl.com/64qsu9

BTW, the big square thing at the bottom of the pile is a collapsible massage table (he explained one got broken by crazy PlayStation players).

Posted by jb (I want a puppy and a pony!) 12/01/2008 at 09:07 PM

C1 - i would advise a write in candidacy...!

Posted by skip1515 12/01/2008 at 09:23 PM

Pete, this is a fascinating idea for tournaments, though like you, I doubt it could ever be instituted even if the inherent difficulties – mostly the obstacle of changing the public's expectations – could be overcome.

But it might be a fab idea for Davis Cup, the perennial whipping boy of the Tennis Has Got It All Wrong critics. If the Challenge Round was reinstituted, as it existed when I was still wet behind the backhand, then the final (quarterfinals?) could be scheduled in the country of the Cup holder almost a year in advance. Marketing would be sooooo much easier, journalists might even be able to attend since they'd know the date and place early on, and there'd be time to sell tickets to more folks than just a few.

Posted by mulligansdontfinish 12/01/2008 at 09:27 PM

reading this post reminds me of the PGA and Happy Gilmore. Somebody realy needs to write a movie like that for tennis. One of the best ideas could be that the champion doesn't play untill somebody else has won the tournament! LOL.
We should start letting the college national football champions play the superbowl champions again...that would shake things up!.....meet me on the 16th green at ten pm! lol.

Posted by skip1515 12/01/2008 at 09:40 PM

malimeda, I thought about the travel issue, too.

I think a comparison of how far players had to go between tournaments might show they travel further today than years ago, but their incomes have made it possible for them to travel better, too. Much better.

Jeez, the luggage Nadal's moving around in that photo is probably the total square footage of some players' hotel rooms 30 years ago!

I took a quick look at the record of a fellow traveller's of Vilas: Brian Gottfried. His first title was in 1973, and his last in 1983 (in dubs). In between he won $2,782,514. Over 10 years that's $278,251 per year. Even in 1970's dollars that didn't get you private jet privileges, and Gottfried was as high as #3 in 1977.

Don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying today's pros don't suffer from the rigors of travel, but all things considered it's no harder today than it was in 1977, and probably easier.

Posted by Annie 12/01/2008 at 10:06 PM

Crazyone: please excuse but i don't know who tripe P is. *ducks*

Another issue for today's players beyond the incessant exhausting time zone changes is all the extra-curricular appearances that are required of them by the ATP. was that the case 30 years ago? i doubt it.

skip1515's idea about using the challenge format for DC is really good. From a marketing standpoint it would be a huge boon for DC. ITF are you listening???

and here's another beatles title:
I'll Cry Instead (rafa wimby 2007 :( )
I'm A Loser (need suggestions here...)

Posted by Ruth 12/01/2008 at 10:15 PM

Whether you're travelling in your private jet like Roger, Roddick or Sampras (anyone else?) or in business class or coach, the disadvantages of frequent trips between time zones, the jet lag etc etc -- these problems are all the same for tennis players or for businessmen and politicians of any rank. It is not surprising that almost every retired tennis player mentions that the one thing he/she does not miss is the stress of constant travel.

But, as I've said before, the stress of travel is only one of the things that make me feel that today's professional tennis is definitely NOT our father's and grandfather's tennis. And it is wrong to pretend that it is and should/could be handled with equal ease.

Posted by Arun 12/01/2008 at 10:33 PM

"please excuse but i don't know who tripe P is."

Annie: PPP = Tintin = PEHK = Philipp Kohlschreiber.. Here is his website (C1's favorite among the websites of all the Tennis stars :P) - http://www.philippkohlschreiber.de/

Posted by Annie 12/01/2008 at 10:51 PM

thanks Arun, you always come through for me! any news on Master Ace's atp list?

Posted by Arun 12/01/2008 at 11:16 PM

Annie: no idea about MA's list. btw, the TWibe is on the other thread.

Posted by twist serve 12/01/2008 at 11:48 PM

Ruth:

Thanks for mentioning the Pepsi Grand Slam of Tennis. I watch those matches over the weekend, too. I didn't start watching tennis until the 1980's, so seeting those matches was a real treat. The Orantes-Ashe match from 1976 was boring, but the rest were good. I was really impressed with how much harder Borg hit the ball when he was forced to hit a passing shot. Not an easy thing to do with that tiny racket. Connors hit some very hard backhands. But his forehand was a real liability.

Posted by OsloErik 12/02/2008 at 12:01 AM

I don't mean to criticize, BUT...

Kim Clijsters played 102 matches in 2003.
Jelena Jankovic played 97 in 2007.

So it seems some players are plenty capable of hitting 100.

Nevermind Clijsters spent 2004 injured and Jankovic still hasn't won a slam.

Posted by tsong 12/02/2008 at 12:24 AM


Hingis (from east europe) -- The Epitome of Hubris

Djerkovic (from east europe) -- The Embodiment of Hubris

Seles (from east europe) -- Redeemed Herself from Hubris

Jankovic (from east europe) -- On the Verge of Hubris

Posted by rg.nadal 12/02/2008 at 02:59 AM

Hello all

Posted by Tennis Observer 12/02/2008 at 04:53 AM

tsong - The Epitome of Moron.

Posted by mina (Arwen wannabe) 12/02/2008 at 05:53 AM

hi all! i see SFLHC still has people talking... :)

* heads back upthread to read Pete's post in its entirety *

Posted by rg.nadal 12/02/2008 at 06:28 AM

mina: hi. kindly enlighten- whats SFLHC?

Posted by mina (Arwen wannabe) 12/02/2008 at 06:54 AM

hi rg!!! SFLHC= Sgt. Federer's Lonely Hearts Club :) maha's band, together with, jacko tina and Laura i think...

where the heck is everyone??? LOL

Posted by mina (Arwen wannabe) 12/02/2008 at 07:02 AM

hmmm i kinda like the Challenge round proposal...gives the top performers the rest they need, while affording the lower ranked guys the chance to play more matches...

all this talk of geography and constant travel by the players got me thinking abt their carbon footprints...tennis players prolly rank high up the footprint ladder, giving businessmen stiff competition! LOL okay okay, i know i should worry abt my own carbon footprint rather than the players, but i'm pretty sure i leave a heck of a lot less than the average journeyman :)

Posted by rg.nadal 12/02/2008 at 07:03 AM

mina: Thanks. I saw that in facebook. Now i remember.Too Federerish for my liking! :-D
i am leaving. Say my HIII to everyone when they land. Au Revoir, mina.

Posted by Kofi 12/02/2008 at 07:10 AM

Reducing the yearly tennis calendar is not a good solution imo. Unlike with soccer and most other sports, as a fan, is nice being able to watch top tennis almost all year long (these days being the sad exception). Part of a player's greatness also consists in consistency and endurance against injuries: anyone can take part in as many tournaments as he wants/can.

As for the system "defending champion goes straight to final", I see it as an exaggerated version of the present system with the BYEs top players get at first rounds. How about top players getting one or TWO BYEs depending on ATP ranking? For instance, if Nadal & Co. directly enter THIRD instead of second round of all tournaments, their match load by the end of the year would be significantly reduced. One could even throw in an additional (accumulatable) BYE for the defending champion, if you want...

Sorry if much of this has already been said, I have not read through the thread...

Posted by Kofi 12/02/2008 at 07:21 AM

I forgot to mention I dislike the "defending champion straight to final" system because it takes away too much of the merit of winning a title. One thing is to relax a top player's yearly number of matches, but going straight to the final is too much (and unbalanced: one week almost idle, the next play again from round one). I have often read that e.g. Laver's number of grand slams is not too comparable to nowadays' because back then they only had to beat the challenger. Even with golf, they say Tiger Woods has to beat ALL his opponents before earning a slam, while Federer only has to beat a handful of them (which, btw, I think it is a totally unfair and unreasonable objection).

Posted by Tari 12/02/2008 at 07:44 AM

Who can deny that man (Lendl) was good looking?? Hmm?

(Rhetorical...please let me have my delusion, thanks.)

Hello, Arun!

Posted by Maha (David Tennant = THE Perfect Doctor; Lee Mead= The Perfect Joseph; Roger Federer = Perfection) 12/02/2008 at 08:18 AM

Where IS everybodyyyyy???????

Posted by Maha (David Tennant = THE Perfect Doctor; Lee Mead= The Perfect Joseph; Roger Federer = Perfection) 12/02/2008 at 08:25 AM

Right. No one. Better leave then...

Posted by Or 12/02/2008 at 08:57 AM

Howdy all!

Slow here with no tennis on, but I definitly have some exciting personal, and yet tennis related news.

First of all, I've passed the bar exams. *wipes sweat off forehead*

Second of all, I'll be taking a trip to Wimby next year, with, get ready for this - reporter credentials, assuming everything goes through okay with the editor of the newspaper I'll be reporting for. I'm so excited about this, it means free access to matches I'd have to bank-rupt to watch.

But, I'm still going to have to pay for hotel rooms. Anyone else from the regulars here interested in going and sharing hotel rooms? Those of you who have been, where is a good and cheap place to stay? I know it is early, but I don't want to discover I don't have anywhere.

Posted by Or 12/02/2008 at 09:14 AM

Blah, "anywhere to stay at".

Posted by Master Ace 12/02/2008 at 09:29 AM

Or,
Congrats on both accomplishments. Please post that also in My Death Star as this is an on topic post. Rosangel and other UK posters may be able to help.

Posted by TMF is back 12/02/2008 at 09:34 AM

did u saw - FEDERER will miss MONTE CARLO

http://www.rogerfederer.com/en/rogers/schedule/index.cfm

new shedule 2009

Posted by Or 12/02/2008 at 09:57 AM

Will do. Sorry about that.

Posted by Arun 12/02/2008 at 10:12 AM

hello Tari! :)

Posted by ladyjulia 12/02/2008 at 10:24 AM


Hi Pete,

Nadal is 82-11...Fed was 92-5 in 2006, but did not not complain about the schedule.

I think it is dependent on the type of game as well as intelligent scheduling.

Posted by Sher 12/02/2008 at 10:27 AM

Or, wow, that's awesome on both counts! Congratulations on the bar exam.

Hey Tari

Posted by robbyfan 12/02/2008 at 10:51 AM

speculation is over. Mike Phelps is SI sportsperson of the year.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2008/magazine/specials/sportsman/2008/12/01/sportsman.2008/index.html?bcnn=yes

Well done!!!

Posted by Marian (walks in boxers on the court) 12/02/2008 at 11:06 AM

Hello everyone,

I agree with Ruth and other posters that think that tennis is more demanding now, that there are more hard courts tournaments and more travel. So forget about 100 games per year if someone as light on his feet as Roger got injured and someone as fit as Nadal had problems as well...

May I add:

- It's also more demanding to get and stay at that level (meaning one needs to practice harder) and that gets me to my second point:

- More competition

In conclusion, when you watch some previous stars, at times it feels that some amateurs from today can do that, with the help of the new equipment but not only...

One more argument, why isn't not only the equipment: just watch some old NBA games and in many you may notice some lumberjacks moving slowly...Today's players are moving much faster and have much higher individual skills in average...Or take a look at Bob Cousy (who wasn't a lumberjack, but a point guard at 6'1" - 1.85 m), who revolutionized dribbling back in the days: today the Grandma can dribble like him, no offense intended :)

Cheers!

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 12/02/2008 at 11:21 AM

I think you've missed the point here, Pete, if I might say.

The reason Gael Monfils and Andy Roddick did not even crack your 75% threshold (75 matches of the 100 standard bear), was because they lost a lot of matches in earlier rounds. If a player wins, he gets to play another day. This is why the Federers and Nadals of the world are playing the most matches -- because they are winning and going deep in almost every tournament.

Now, is 18 tournaments a year too many? Probably not. That's not the issue, it's the crowding of the most important torunaments into a series of short windows, the scheduling of a few of the Slams, and the extended season for Davis Cuppers and Master Cup qualifiers, so that these players (all winners, by the way) end up with narry 6 to 8 weeks off before they are striking their first ball in a pre-Australian Open tune-up event.

If Nadal, the epitome of a fit player, is complaining of the schedule just as he should be peaking going into Roland Garros, then something must give. Period. We must rely on what the players are telling us.

Is a guy who spends most of his time in the Challengers complaining about the schedule? Probbbly not. But he's also trying like hell to gain enough ATP points to qualify for a Slam. His opinion is of little consequence, IMO. But when our nest athletes are expressing qualms with the schedule, it's time we lend an ear and have a listen.

Also, today's first round opponents are much tougher than they were 30 years ago, there's no question about that. So, Vilas' 100 matches and Nadal's 100 matches is comparing apples to oranges. A good 10 to 25% of Vilas' matches were near walkovers.

Furthermore, who wouldn't want to see the players come back from a 10- to 12-week layoff with new tools, an improved game, and a fully recuperated body?

The only alternative I find accceptable is a year-long season that has several 3- and 4-week breaks interspersed between the mini "Slam tune-up" seasons.

Posted by tina 12/02/2008 at 12:14 PM

Maybe this has already been floated on here somewhere in the past couple of days while I haven't been on, but --

Unconfirmed news from a very reliable source in Belgrade: Ana Ivanovic is looking to buy the Linz tournament and bring it to Belgrade. Makes sense, especially as the infrastructure for the ATP tournament will already be there.

Posted by Master Ace 12/02/2008 at 12:32 PM

Tina,
Just heard about that earlier today before I had to run an errand. Thanks for posting.

Posted by codepoke 12/02/2008 at 12:39 PM

It's the beginning of the silly season in tennis! I always wondered when that started for us. :-)

> Scoff at me if you will; the earth is only as round as you want it to be.

This is a beautiful line. I'd like mine so round my flat shot requires extra topspin.

Just imagine, though, if this rule was put in place. Guillermo Vilas would have played like, what? 20 matches the next year? It would be a travesty! An injustice the like of which has never been foisted on a world full of adoring fans (in geographically convenient locations for an iron man to forge a career, of course.)

And picture the devastation a happy-go-lucky guy like Nalby would have to endure. He's carefully crafted a career of losing early to big names. Can you imagine what your plan would do innocent freeloaders everywhere? Nalby might have to play 70, 80, or maybe even 81 matches in a single year. He might end up with enough ranking points by September to coast all the way through to November and still almost have to go to the YEC. He might have to lose to Volandri in Paris to come in at exactly #9 in the world for the umpteenth time.

And the clothing expenses? The sitting champ would need to appear in countless interviews and match commentaries, and you surely could not expect him to wear the same suit from hour to hour? That means appearance fees. The tournaments might have to take some of that prize money back from the women in a complex pay-for-preening scheme. You could single-handedly set the women's lib movement back 20 or 30 minutes (and I'll guarantee you'll hear about those 20 minutes.) Oooh! And imagine the furror when the angry mobs of women suggest that since Federer only played 1/7 of the matches, he should only get 1/7 of $1,000,000. Roger's a nice guy, but he's got a cow to feed! (Yes, in a pasture somewhere...)

I love ya Pete, but I'm just not sure you thought this the whole way through. ;-P


Posted by tina 12/02/2008 at 12:54 PM

Slice-and-Dice has posted precisely what I would contribute to this topic - that the better players automatically play more matches because they win more matches, simple as. Players who get knocked out in early rounds have time to take a break, or go on ahead to the next tournament and adjust, or hang around if there's anything fun going on.

With regard to travel fatigue, I would also throw in food: adjusting to food in different regions.

And in the case of the provided food that should be somewhat internationally uniform, I've eaten from a number of tournament player buffets, including Wimbledon's, and frankly, I don't think I've found one yet that would pass a proper Safety/Sanitation test. So I'm never surprised when players have stomach troubles. Anyone who's suffered after eating buffet food knows how draining that is on one's system, too.

Posted by L. Rubin 12/02/2008 at 12:55 PM

Or,

Congratulations! Perhaps you'll manage, what with your new credentials and all, to land an interview with Fed. In his hotel room, perhaps? While Mirka's out shopping, perhaps? OK, enough.

--Liron

Posted by Maha (David Tennant = THE Perfect Doctor; Lee Mead= The Perfect Joseph; Roger Federer = Perfection) 12/02/2008 at 01:03 PM

tina!!!!! I mean JOHN!!!!!!! Get onto the other post.... the My Death Star one!!!! I think there's some more people there!!!

Everyone else! We might as well keep living in the past.... back to the previous post!

Posted by tina 12/02/2008 at 01:04 PM

p.s. Michael Phelps was the obvious Sports Illustrated choice - but I still think the 100 fly was won by Milorad Cavic

Posted by Maha (David Tennant = THE Perfect Doctor; Lee Mead= The Perfect Joseph; Roger Federer = Perfection) 12/02/2008 at 01:13 PM

GTG for supper! Be back soon!

Posted by aussiemarg{rafa nadal,no 1 player,long may he reign} 12/02/2008 at 02:18 PM

good morning guys, wasnt suprised to see Michael Phelps,win SI of the year award,to me,the greatest swimmer,I have seen,these amazing athletes are few and far between,i am so grateful,I was fortunate enough to be able to witness this guy.

Posted by Todd and in Charge 12/02/2008 at 03:11 PM

"incomparably better"? I don't know better or worse, but for the reasons Ruth stated there can be little question the sport is much more physically demanding now than in the late 1970s.

In addition to the early losses highlighted by Slice-n-Dice, you can add injury. Was Monfils injured earlier this year?

Posted by Ruth 12/02/2008 at 04:15 PM

I was so focussed on Pete's comparison of what yesterday's players did and what today's player's complain about doing that I did not react to his challenge idea.

First, let me say that I think that Pete is well aware of the winners-play-more fact, hence his desire to relieve the winners/champions of defending their crowns all the way by using his system.

But I have to agree with those who feel that Pete's system goes too far. Can you imagine the effect on ticket sales or TV viewing if the only chance one had to see the defending champion was when he made his grand appearance in the final? Why, cheap people like me who usually buy only early round tickets (sometimes semis) would be outraged! :)

And, seriously, I also concur with those who believe that NOT having to play in a tourney from Round 1 (or Rd 2, with a bye)can easily become a disadvantage rather than a welcome gift to frequent winners/defenders.

BTW I've always thought that not having to defend a title minutes (hyperbole alert) after you've won it would be a great change for Davis Cup -- although I am hoping to see the pesky Spaniards who snatched the Cup from my Argentines struggle (and, maybe, fall) against Serbia in the sooner-than-you-think first round of 2009!

Posted by Sher 12/02/2008 at 04:33 PM

Agree with Rutn on the 'not playing round to round can become a dissadvantage to frequent winners'. Roger and Rafa seem to be very well suited to be successful in the current scheme -- which demands great physical gifts as well as mental. I can easily see how a less mentally (and physically) fit champion can enjoy a very dominant year in the challenger system.

Posted by Ruth 12/02/2008 at 05:13 PM

tina: Know what you mean about the 100 fly. I kept having that feeling of...should I believe my own eyes or what they tell me really happened????

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 12/02/2008 at 05:28 PM

Being somewhat of a traditionalist, it is tempting to jump on board Pete's lkatest "answer" to the scheduling problem. For that's really what it is--a scheduling problem. Not a season-length or number-of-matches-played problem. But as much as I would like to emrace this idea of lating the defending champion sit out until the final, while the rest of the field scratch and claw their way to get the chance to play a presumably fresh or unprepared (take your pick) titleist, I cannot.

First, this would wreak havoc on the already inane computer points system, in which defending champions risk losing a certain number of points should they fail to defend. Channeling the ghosts of Bill Tilden would merely mean that Nadal could only lose so many points if he failed to win Roland Garros in 2009 (the difference between the winner's points total and the finalist's points total, to be exact.

Which brings me to my second objection: tennis is a meritocracy of the highest order. You win, you get a chance to play to win some more. The more you win the more ranking points you earn (of course, certain tournaments award a great deal more than others, further evidence of meritocracy at work). Ergo, the more you win the higher your ranking. Simple. Clean. Tidy. Uncorrupted. Alow players to skip past four, five or six rounds and we have fundamentally changed the nature of this meritocracy--for the worse, IMO.

Third, even if you don't give a hill o' beans about meritocracies, consider that from year to year a player may be white hot, red hot, or black as coal. To hand a player a free pass, a get out of jail free card, on the basis of his performance 12 months prior, is really a manifestation of hubris. We have seen time and again players getting hotter by the tournament, until they truly have that break-through tournament. Andy Murray experienced it this summer, culminating in his U.S. Open finals berth. Juan Martin del Potro went on a 23-match, four-tournament tear that rocketed him up the rankings.

In other words, a player's future results are more closely linked to his immediate past results than they are his results from 12 months prior. Had Nadal not performed so well in the tune-ups to Roland Garros--taking the title in Barcelona, Monte Carlo and Hamburg--it's more than likely he would not have won his fourth straight crown in Paris.

A better solution would be to award semifinalists a late start in their next tournament and finalists a first-round bye--provided that tournament was the following week.

Posted by Charles 12/02/2008 at 06:35 PM

Fascinating post, Pete! Really enjoyed it!!

Ruth summed it up perfectly, I think... It's far more demanding to play a match now than it was back in the 70's. The change has been incremental through the decades, so perhaps it's not very noticeable, but if you compare the effort put out by the players on a youtube 70's match to what today's matches look like, there's no comparison. Today's players are wailing (whaling?) on the ball. Today's "more powerful" rackets are really today's "more accurate" rackets that, because of their accuracy, allow the players to hit harder shots with a better margin of error.

Further, the demands of the schedule are quite different. Back in the late 70's and early 80's players could pretty much choose to play any tournament they wanted. The result was that the top players tended to avoid each other. It was more like the top players were entering a lot of (what we would call) 3rd and 4th tier tournaments--the competition wasn't as stiff, the game wasn't as hard-hitting, the mental drain was not as great at these tournaments. For example, in 1977 the top 3 (Borg, Connors, Vilas) played a total of 324 singles matches and only had 4 matches against each other--Borg v Vilas twice, Borg v Connors once, and Vilas v Connors once. By contrast in 2008, Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic played only 265 matches but played each other 13 times. This is because the current ranking system demands that players participate in the 4 GS events, and the 9 (or 10) masters events in order to maximize ranking points. Thus the top players are constantly facing each other. This is good marketing but it's also part of what's wearing them out.

Pete is totally correct that it is only for the top 2 or maybe 4 players that the over-work issue is a problem. For the rest of the pack, to play that many matches at the ATP level is a privilege they are trying desperately to earn.

I think that a more stream-lined (shorter) or a more flexible schedule are likely the answers. By more flexible, I mean that players should have more choice about which tournaments they play. If the top players only had to play 6 Masters events (instead of 9 or 10) they could adjust their schedules to better maximize their strengths and their schedules, while preserving for promotional purposes, a high likelihood of many matches among the game's elite.

On the WTA side, it seems that a minimum divisor of 12 or 13 tournaments would more likely keep the top women healthy. Right now the women have essentially a minimum/maximum divisor of 17... Currently the more tournaments over 17 they play, the more bad results they can ignore. The fewer tournaments than 17 they play, the more their ranking is hurt by lack of points. If this were instead of a number (17) adjusted to a range - maybe 12 to 17, it would allow players like the Williamses to have computer rankings more commensurate with their average performance (ie higher, better reflecting their odds of winning - just check bookies.com before any major tournament to see what the "real" seedings should be) while continuing to allow players who play a lot, the Jankovic's and Safina's, to benefit (their rankings) by dropping bad results. The supposed problem with this, from the promotional point of view, is that the top players will play less and the game will then receive less exposure hurting revenues. However, I would counter this logic and say that the top players like the Williamses, Sharapova, and even Henin when she played, have almost always played less than 17 tournaments anyway, so the effect has been to underrepresent their rankings. This results in inappropriately low seedings for them at the big events they do enter and detracts from the profitability of the game, because the marquis players play less matches after they eliminate each other early. The whole point of seeding is to have the marquis players play the most matches possible (to maximize ticket revenue).

just my 2 cents...

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