Who knew that Rafa Nadal's injury was a warning cry - not to his camp - but to the the tennis executives who manage the schedule?
I was watching the match between Nadal and Lubicic today, and I witnessed yet another player leave an event due to injury. How many does that make? Let's see. Since October 11, the following players have had to retire from the Shanghai Maters 1000 event due to injury: Ivan Lubicic (CRO) - Right Hip, Stanilaw Wawrinka (SUI) - Abdomen, Tommy Haas (GER) - Right Shoulder, Gael Monfils (FRA) - Back, Juan Martin Del Potro (ARG) - Right Wrist, Tommy Haas (GER) - Right Shoulder, Andy Roddick (USA) - Left Knee, Mischa Zverev (GER) - Right Wrist, Jose Acasuso (ARG) - Left Knee, Brendan Evans (USA) - Unknown. 10 players in one event in one week. What's going on here? Andy Roddick at his post-match press conference said, "It's ridiculous to think that you have a professional sport that doesn't have a legitimate offseason to rest, get healthy, and then train."
How did it get this bad? Simple: when the players' union and tournament operations merged under the ATP umbrella, the players somehow became marginalized. Their ability to effect change and be a part of the process was diminished, and money became the overriding concern. No one's knocking the need to make a profit, but if it is done at the expense of the players who are the ones meant to draw in the crowds, that's just boneheaded. Plus, if players are required to play at tournaments with poor attendance, then what is the point?
Of course, there will be those who argue that there are so many players out there, that there is a need for many events to allow the lower ranked players a chance at moving up. OK. But, there is a better way. If you look at the UEFA model, for example, where you have a host of teams, the countries have a two-tiered system in which the teams are divided into separate leagues. Consider the UK or Spain. Higher-performing teams are in the top tier (the English Barclay's Premier League or Spanish Primera Liga), and the rest fall into the 2nd divisions (English Coca Cola league or Spanish Liga Adelante). The top teams, of course, make it to the top of the first tier leagues, but the lower performing teams of the first tier can be relegated to the second division; whereas the second division teams at the top can be elevated if they perform well.
The same can be done for tennis. Place the top 50 or 100 into the first division, and the next 100 into the second division. The rest can compete in lower leagues for the chance to enter the second division and move up. Keep the 4 Grand Slams open for all who qualify, and maintain the standard that the top 30 players must play the slams plus 8/9 Masters 1000 events, but cut the total of mandatory events from 18 to 16 or even 15. For the second division, they'd have to play the slams plus 9/10 Masters 500 events, and they'd also have 15-16 tourneys a year. It's just a thought.
No one is claiming that it will be easy to overhaul or modify the system, but it's time to consider that the current system is broken. Players are falling due to injury. They are not be considered in the equation, and they are the main chunk of that equation. How is it that other sports' players are rightly viewed as athletes, but tennis players get short shrift? There can be as much running with as much intensity as basketball, and they need major core strength. Even baseball players get "athlete" status, and I ask you: When was the last time you saw a fat tennis player? Something must be resolved soon, or we risk losing more players and perhaps for good.