- Chris Wilkinson
A vicious circleChris Wilkinson September 22, 2011
Back in the days of John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Stefan Edberg, they used to play week in, week out, and they were playing doubles as well.
From the players' point of view they feel the schedule is too demanding and they are playing too many matches. But they need to be careful - the last thing they want to do is start sounding like footballers, who get paid hundreds of thousands of pounds a week but complain about playing twice a week.
The likes of Murray and Rafael Nadal have been critical of the tennis calendar, but compared to most other players on the tour they have played the fewest events. So far this year Andy Murray has played 13 tournaments which equates to 52 matches - Novak Djokovic has played 12 tournaments but 67 matches.
But if you look further down the rankings at someone like Nicolas Almagro - he has played 63 matches at 21 different tournaments in 2011. Playing a match is tiring, but travelling around the world is even more draining. Of the current top 100, Daniel Gimeno-Traver and Tobias Kamke have played the most tournaments in the last 12 months, at 34 that is nearly twice as many as Murray, who has played 19.
Realistically, I don't think there will be a strike. Lower ranked players, who are playing 30 plus tournaments a year are more entitled to strike, but don't have the clout to do so, and unlike the top players they cannot afford to miss out on the prize money on offer. In the unlikely event of the top players boycotting a grand slam, the lower-ranked players will see it as their big opportunity.
The beauty of being a top four, or even a top ten player, is that they can afford to pick and choose which events they play, although obviously they have some mandatory Masters events and a handful of other tournaments to attend. The game is undoubtedly more physical than it used to be, and when you see the way Nadal and Novak Djokovic throw themselves around the court you cannot expect them to be able to do that every week.
Roger Federer is a rare beast in the way he avoids injury, but his style of play is increasingly ineffective against his more powerful opponents.
But it is a vicious circle. If you make the Masters events non-mandatory, the prize money would drop because tournament organisers would struggle to secure sponsorship without the guarantee of the big names.
One option would be to say that at least two of the top players have to attend every event, but it would be difficult because the chances are they would want to play at the same tournaments because of scheduling. There has been talk of moving the Australian Open to March to extend the off-season, but to be honest I can't see anything happening. They have tweaked next season's calendar but with any major upheaval a lot of the smaller tournaments will suffer. It's hard to keep everyone happy.
I think the scheduling problems at the US Open was the straw that broke the camel's back. It is a concern that has been rumbling for a while, but the problems with the weather followed immediately by the Davis Cup has aggravated the issue. It was a great effort from Nadal, who was back in action just four days after losing his US Open title to Djokovic. He battled tiredness jetlag to play for his country, and that shows what a professional he is.
Credit to the top players, who all played Davis Cup this weekend. Federer flew all the way to Australia to help Switzerland return to the World Group, and it was a good effort from Djokovic who was clearly feeling the effects of his exploits in New York. Murray had an easier time of things against lower ranked opponents, but it would have been a good confidence boost for him.
To be honest I think the British team could have beaten Hungary without Murray, but it is great for British tennis that he played, especially in front of his home fans in Glasgow.
Murray will have heard that Federer's former coach Peter Lundgren is available after splitting from Stanislas Wawrinka. I know Peter quite well - he has a lot of experience in the game with the likes of Marat Safin and Marcos Baghdatis and helped Federer win his first slam back in 2003. Just a month or so after linking up with Wawrinka he reached the quarter-finals of the US Open last year. On paper Lundgren would be the perfect coach for Murray, but given his past with the LTA I think there is too much history there.
Murray needs a big character to help him break his grand slam duck. He made the semi-finals of all four grand slams this year which is a really impressive achievement, but he needs someone to help him make that next step - someone who is able to tell him to shut up when he starts whining and losing his focus on court.
Someone like Brad Gilbert would be perfect.
Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1