My own opinion of the tour schedule is probably a little biased because as a tennis trader, I want MORE tournaments and matches, not less! Nonetheless, I think I would still be of the opinion that these players need to stop whinging about the number of matches they play. I find it amazingly hypocritical that Rafa Nadal can complain (he played more than any other player in 2010, around 80 matches) yet chose to also play in some exhibition tournaments as well as The Thailand Open, which is a 250 event that wasn't mandatory but where he was famously paid a 7 figure sum just for entering. This year, he has again played more matches to date than any other player on the main tour - 83. Here are the requirements expected of top players, taken from the ATP website:
In 2011, any player who finished in the 2010 year-end Top 30 will be required to compete in four Grand Slam tournaments and eight ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments.
Top 30 players (based on '10 year-end ranking) must play a minimum of four 500 level tournaments during the calendar year, including at least one event following the US Open (Monte Carlo Masters 1000 event will count towards the minimum
In 2011, Nadal hit all those pre-requisites and played OVER the minimum by one 250 event (Queen's Club). If you compare him to Janko Tipsarevic, (who is next highest for number of matches played this year at 81) he has played 26 tournaments plus 3 Davis Cup ties; far more travelling and surely far more exhausting than Nadal's 17 tournaments and 2 Davis Cup ties. I doubt Tipsarevic is moaning, though maybe that'll change now he's top 10!
Lesser players won't play as many games but that is because they won't win as many. Take for example, Marcos Baghdatis. 55 played, 28 won, 27 lost. Hasn't had any major injuries this year and has entered 27 tournaments. Of course, his ranking dropped severely last year and he had to qualify for bigger events and needed to earn points in 250s to get up the rankings but that's his job. I suppose 55 matches compared to 83 is a big gap but is that not the one price you pay for success? I'm sure Baghdatis would kill to be playing 80 matches a year from 10 fewer tournaments.
Another player moaning is Mardy Fish (as anyone who saw his recent disgusting photo of his swollen leg on Twitter will know!) but he has played 22 tournaments this year including 6 250 events, which is way over the minimum requirement for a top 30 player. He wouldn't be saying anything if he hadn't gotten injured, putting his ATP finals place at risk, but a few less tournaments might have helped (he's played 68 games).
Is the quality of tournaments compromised by the 'long' schedule? I don't see it. The Paris Masters, the final tournament of the year, takes place in November and the 2010 event was heralded as one of the best quality ATP tournaments of the year. So people are moaning about drop-outs this year but that can happen at any stage of the year. Tipsarevic isn't injured and still played at the ATP Finals. Roger Federer has played 77 matches in 2011 and this is a fascinating stat; he's NEVER retired from an ATP match! EVER! He played his best tennis of 2011 at the Tour Finals and he's 30 now. Why is that? I believe it's because Federer organises his schedule well. He takes enough time off to enable his body to recover, picking and choosing tournaments much better. The tour schedule isn't the problem, it's the individual players schedules that need looking at.
Take Andy Murray, another serial moaner. He played Bangkok, Tokyo and Shanghai back to back, winning all three. He'd also won Cincinnati and reached the US Open quarter final not long before Bangkok. It's no wonder he was knackered come Paris and pulled out of London. He admits he has to look at his schedule for next year.
I just think it's the pampered few at the very top trying to use their influence to get what they want, forgetting that less tournaments means less money and ranking point opportunities for the lower ranked players. If you downgrade events or make them non-compulsory, it puts the tour in jeopardy anyway. Don't forget, these tournaments give a chance for people from all over the world to enjoy tennis live and to help put more money into the ATP coffers. Not to mention the tournament organisers and employees who rely on the business. I'm sure there could be a compromise somewhere (why are Indian Wells and Miami two weeks long, for starters?) but to even consider striking, (as Nadal, Murray and several others did at the US Open) smacks of selfishness.
Here's world number 24, Slovakia's Daniela Hantuchova: