Column: Andy Murray leads call for change

September 23, 2011, 10:43 AM | Community Column | Alistair Hendrie
You can forgive Andy Murray for being a little tetchy with the tennis authorities right now. After the debacle at the US Open in which he and Donald Young were forced to begin their fourth round clash in treacherous wet conditions, Murray has now re-ignited a well-worn debate over the length of the ATP calendar.

Speaking to the BBC this week, the world number four was asked if a strike was possible and said: “It's a possibility. Let's hope it doesn't come to that but I'm sure the players will consider it.” Murray has reached at least the semi-finals of all four grand slams this season, yet still awaits important tournaments in the Paris Masters 1000 and ATP World Tour Finals.

The Scot sighed: “Right now it takes so long to change things. To get another change implemented may take five or six years at the rate things are going and then all of us will be done [retired]. We want it to happen sooner rather than later."

Of course, the 2012 calendar will be trimmed by two weeks with a mouth-watering climax now featuring the Paris Masters 1000 and ATP World Tour Finals played back-to-back, but the ATP tour still finishes a month later than its WTA equivalent.

So what of the inept officiating? The ATP attests that they want the players to have a say in the running, but change needs to happen as soon as possible for the good of the game. This season, it was no coincidence that the grand slam with the most retirements was the final one. The US Open featured a damning 11 retirements as players’ bodies wilted under the strain of another draining year.

To put that into context, Wimbledon and the French Open had five retirements and the Australian Open – infamous for its stifling conditions – just the three.  What’s more, fans will turn away from the game if grand slams turn into farcical non-events where walkovers and retirements are commonplace.

Tennis players are indeed amongst some of the fittest and finest athletes in the world. The nature of the sport – changing direction frequently, striking balls at over 90mph – makes it one of the most physical, gladiatorial pursuits on the planet.

Currently, men are required to play at least 12 events a year, not including the four majors. The calendar features 42 250 events, 11 500 events and eight 1000 events, making for a bloated spectacle on first look. It’s the amount of 250 events which baffles most. Many of them are played to scarcely populated stadia, with few marquee draws or high-ranked players on show.

Yes, they pay from $300,000 to $1,000,000 for a victory, but take Murray for example. Since the inception of the new branding of events in 2009, in winning two 250 events, Murray has beaten the likes of Sergiy Stakhovsky and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez – players well below his level - in the final stages of tournaments.

That’s not to say scrap 250 events altogether; they harness a good opportunity for lower players to boost their rankings. But the fact is that a lot of them have hurtled into tennis’ equivalent of the Carling Cup – a far from prestigious event with little value for marketing or fan appeal.

The prevalence of 250 events is what is holding the calendar back. Of course, the money is there for the taking but more emphasis should be put on 500 events. Is there really any need for twelve 250 events from January to March? Thank heavens, the calendar does regain a more cohesive nature in March – two 1000 events separated by a week and that’s it.

Following the clay season in May, the grass season has always been a point of debate. A much maligned surface in the past, one grand slam on grass and scarcely any other tournaments does not do the surface justice. It is little wonder that so many heralded players from the past - such as Marat Safin – have voiced their disdain for grass court tennis, when the ATP do little to promote it.  

Much to their credit, the handful of 250 events before Wimbledon are rich in tradition and act as a staple mark in the build-up to Wimbledon, but the grass-court season is essentially two weeks of these, then Wimbledon, then most of the players forget grass exists.

And this links intricately to the debate over the transition from clay to grass. Many have argued the virtues of a player who can win Wimbledon straight after the French Open – Roger Federer, Bjorn Borg, Rafael Nadal and Rod Laver are the only four to have done so – and it’s unsurprising when the jump between surfaces is so punctuated.

To give grass a little more prestige and context in the modern game, the ATP should listen to what the experts have endlessly calling for and stretch the gap between Roland Garros and SW19. After all, four weeks between grand slams is asking a lot or the players and, more to the point, is completely devoid of common sense.

Switching the AEGON Championships in London to a 500 or 1000 event would be a good start. It’s an event with a swelling reputation and would provide an attractive option to both players and fans. Indeed, the logistical problems would be rife but this an avenue that authorities could explore.

Towards the end of the season, the ATP World Tour Finals have been an outright success in terms of presentation, marketing and popularity, yet the signs of fatigued players are still there. In 2009, the first year since the tournament’s relocation to London’s o2 arena, star names such as Juan Martin Del Potro and Nadal crippled under the unrelenting strain of another long season.

Del Potro admitted that he was not fit going into his final loss against Nikolay Davydenko, when he could only build a meek surrender in protest as Davydenko raced to a 6-3, 6-4 victory. Nadal cut a similarly drained figure in the group stages – the world number two did not take a set and tumbled out in the first round.

Nadal himself has echoed Murray and believes that the ATP are all about the money and do not listen to the players. The Spaniard was another player who was forced to take to the US Open courts in drizzly conditions.

He recently represented Spain in winning two Davis Cup rubbers over France, despite feeling more anger towards the authorities. Justifiably enough, Nadal was enraged at the placing of a Davis Cup semi-final just days after he lost to Novak Djokovic in the US Open final. He has a point.

And after Djokovic retired in a rubber for Serbia during the same weekend, it’s clear that something needs to be done as the players at the upper rungs of the ladder are deteriorating physically.  

At the Shanghai Masters 1000 event in October, where Murray, Nadal and Djokovic should among the front-runners, players are poised to thrash out their differences with authorities. It’s been a long time coming, but with Murray implying strike action could be forthcoming, the ATP could soon be on the receiving end of an explosive revolt.
Community Column | Alistair Hendrie
The views expressed in the article above are those of the author and therefore do not necessarily reflect the views of MurraysWorld as an organisation. How do I submit my own column?
Interested in writing your own column for this website? Here's how it works:

1. You write an article and submit it using this online form.

2. A staff member evaluates your article to make sure it complies with our editorial guidelines (see drop-down below).

3. When approved, the article is published on the main website and will receive the following exposure:

* Columns page
* Google News (As a Google News Publisher, our articles are treated like mainstream press)
* Rightside of website (See section on the right panel called 'Latest Columns')
* Appears above the news on the home page for 24 hours.
* Publlished on our Twitter and Facebook accounts, including various other social websites.


Editorial Guidelines 1. Article has minimum word count of 300 words.

2. Article is written in English with good spelling and grammar.

3. Your opinions need to be based on fact but speculation is acceptable to some degree.

4. For Google reasons, we ask that you include 'Andy Murray' in the headline.
add comment | 92 comments
Very good article. I agree with all the points raised, players are not machines and can only go so far without a rest between tournaments. The game is now all about money to be made in slams and masters 1000. The player really need to excert some pressure and cut the number of tournaments being played at present.
We just have to look at the number of matches the top four player have had to play in recent months.
They are exhausted, even with their level of fitness no one can expect them to play 5 sets of tennis for two or three days on the trott. In the US Open this was expected due to the poor scheduling by the organisers. The other point that should be taken into consideration is the prize money. According to an article in the times yesterday the players only take about 13% of the money earned by the tournaments. They said that the LTA made thirty one million from Wimbledon. Seems unfair that the player who make the tournament get so little money in relative terms from Wimbledon. Changes will have to be made, the sooner the better for the players in this great sport.
September 23, 2011, 12:28 PM
By Littlebuddha

Id be ashamed to call myself a Scotsman! Are you telling me that living the dream playing tennis at the highest level and getting paid more money than you know what to do with is worthy of complaint? Murray pull your head in. Disappointed in this.
September 23, 2011, 02:47 PM
By Briggy

I see that Federer has withdrawn from Shanghai citing exhaustion and minor injuries.  If that is true, it is yet more evidence of the overcrowded schedule but why does the cynic in me think he might be trying to avoid the players' meeting?  Without Djokovic and Federer there will only be Andy and Rafa to bang the drum and be branded 'trouble makers' by the media.
September 23, 2011, 02:50 PM
By Alis

The rich are allowed to complain but I find it hard to sympathise with Andy when you consider how short a tennis career is and the millions he will get.
September 23, 2011, 02:52 PM
By Mark

Id be ashamed to call myself a Scotsman! Are you telling me that living the dream playing tennis at the highest level and getting paid more money than you know what to do with is worthy of complaint? Murray pull your head in. Disappointed in this.

.....  and burnt out before he's 30 - do you really want to see that for Andy or any of them?
September 23, 2011, 02:52 PM
By Alis

Good article. Just read on Andy's twitter that Federer is pulling out of Shanghai, citing too much tennis, has some injuries, and Nole said he won't be playing as he won't have recovered, so perhaps the powers that be will be made to address the problem. Most of what is being written now seems to be saying that the players have to play too much especially at the top level. Interesting to see in one article a suggestion of how to turn around the tour schedule, (Bleacher) seems to make a lot of sense. Especially not having the Aussie open in Jan in the heat of their summer, and spacing out the French Open and Wimbledon.
This is just a thought with Roger and Nole out of Shanghai it means that Andy will be #2 and will only face Rafa in the finals. Hurray. The god's are smiling at last.
September 23, 2011, 02:52 PM
By michelle

The rich are allowed to complain but I find it hard to sympathise with Andy when you consider how short a tennis career is and the millions he will get.

The brevity of the career is exactly the point. One bad injury or illness can ruin it completely - look what happened to Ancic and Joachim Johannson. I don't think more money is the issue - indeed by shortening the calendar and reducing the number of compulsory tournaments there would be less prize money on offer. Yes, they get too much cash and it's a dream of a lifestyle but I support them anyway. I don't think cash is the motivating factor for these guys - it never was for Murray from things he has said.
September 23, 2011, 03:22 PM
By mackym

I think the top players are quite right to stand up and shout about the packed schedule - one serious injury and their career is over.  I don't think just becuase they earn brill money they should not have the right to not complain about something that could potentially be career limiting or threatning.  The cynical side of me feels that Fed does not want to tarnish his supposed "Mr NIce Guy" image by being part of teh renegade brigade.  Any changes the top guys manage to force through will have benefits for the players below them as well.  The tournament organisers are the first to complain when the big names pull out due to inhuries etc..  Remember when Andy puled out of Marseille the tournament manager went to the press calling him for everything.
September 23, 2011, 03:33 PM
By Murray Magic

I see that Federer has withdrawn from Shanghai citing exhaustion and minor injuries.  If that is true, it is yet more evidence of the overcrowded schedule but why does the cynic in me think he might be trying to avoid the players' meeting?  Without Djokovic and Federer there will only be Andy and Rafa to bang the drum and be branded 'trouble makers' by the media.

Just what I thought Alis.
Without Federer and Djoko it'll hardly be representative of all the top players which is what they were hoping for when a meeting to discuss the issues at Shanghai was mooted at the US Open.
Feel Andy's in danger of being made the lone scapegoat here. It only needs Uncle Tony to have a word in Nadal's ear not to make any waves...
September 23, 2011, 03:42 PM
By matchpoint

One of the problems for Andy here is the unfortunate timing. Ordinary people are struggling to have a job at all with the current economy and yet Andy, who could retire now and live a rich lifestyle for the rest of his days, is unhappy with his job situation.

That is how I think many will see it but of course that doesn't mean he's wrong.
September 23, 2011, 03:47 PM
By Mark

add comment | 92 comments
US Open: 25 August - 8 September
How many Grand Slams will Murray win in his career?
1-2
3-5
6-8
9+