The ATP Calendar: Eight Days a Week?
Nadal has called the ATP schedule "crazy."
The current schedule was made for a world without TV or jet airplanes.
The now never-ending season was originally designed to be built around the Grand Slam tournaments. So why are there back-to-back Master Series hard court events—Indian Wells and Miami—right before the European clay season begins?
Tennis is a truly unique sport in that it’s played on three distinct surfaces—each requiring a unique strategy. This is one of game’s great strengths. Yet, the practice of a schedule so messed up dilutes this very unique characteristic.
And because specific surfaces demand specific skill sets, players need time to adjust their game. More than one top player has wished Wimbledon would fade away—or be cemented down. Not for any dislike for the All England Club per se, but because they have to hone their game to a specific surface during a season that is all too brief and so bereft of tournaments.
But let us not complain.
What follows is brief outline of how tennis could be constructed into three distinct seasons. I’m sharing this with you, gentle Beacher report reader, as I’m sure the ATP will find the rationale to perpetuate its illogical schedule.
I’m ignoring all the entrenched and financial interests of specific tournaments—one reason why this proposal will go no farther than a Bleacher Report feature. I’m trying to focus on the future “positioning” of the sport, a game some argue, that’s been in decline that past couple of decades.
A key part of this is the incorporation of a relatively new tournament: ATP World Tour Masters 1000. Only introduced in 1990, these are essentially "invitation only" tournamnets for the top male players on the professional circuit. Most are required participation. You can only skip so many, so all the top players are typically there.
I’m also addressing the most important part of the sport: us fans. After all, we’re the customer here. For us, tennis is a form of entertainment—one that has to compete with all others forms, which these days go far beyond the realm of sports.
When top players pull out of tournaments—and they all do—they're out not just because of a tweaked knee or foot but because of the ATP’s overcrowded timetable.
So if ATP’s calendar is “poorly thought out,” here’s an outline of perhaps how it could work:
The Clay Season (Feb – April)
Start the tennis calendar in February on the red dirt. Given clay is particularly popular in Europe and South America start the first six weeks or so where it’s summer. Around mid-March, move to Europe (Rome?) for two of clay’s Masters culminating at Roland Garros ending the first week of May.
The bold move: consider moving one of clay’s three Master Series to South America. Given the amount of great players this continent has produced—along with the fact that tennis positions itself as a global game—shouldn’t they have at least one major tennis tournament there?
Moreover, it could culminate the first half of the clay season and entice a lot of players from elsewhere to enter other warm-up tournaments in this part of the planet. Having most of the current top players concentrated for a few weeks may really help the game down there.
How many tournaments have Roger or Rafa played in South America?
God’s Green Grass (mid-May to mid-July)
Few tennis fans realize how historical lawn tennis has become. Once the only surface, today it’s been cemented down to only some seven percent of all ATP tournaments.
Start mid-May with the grass warm-ups culminating in Wimbledon ending mid-July. More than one player has complained about the very short lead up from Roland Garros to the All England club.
Given that grass is night and day from clay allow the players more lead in time to adjust their game.
Another bold move: why not upgrade a current lawn tournament (Queens?) into a Masters level event by taking one of the six away from the hard court category.
If grass is really a part of modern tennis, then enlarge its schedule. Grass currently has no Masters event to its name. Allowing a full two months might boost its share of the ATP schedule to at least 10 percent.
Or is grass going to rely on the prestige of Wimbledon forever?
Hard Court Season (August to mid-Dec.)
This could start Aug. 1 and go all the way through mid-Dec where I’d put the Australian Open back to when it was originally played.
The US Open could start end Sept/early Oct. when NY is less humid than it is in August.
Schedule two Masters before Flushing Meadows and three Masters leading up to Melbourne.
Besides, moving Indian Wells and Miami into a late Oct. or Nov. time would have little effect weather wise given the locale of these events.
From around mid-Dec. until Feb. give the players a good six week break. We could use it too.
This might help with the American market—where tennis has had significant declines—in that you’re targeting fans to watch tennis again weeks after all those college bowls and the Superbowl have been decided.
Since the ATP isn't going to comment, what say you?
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