There has been a lot of talk lately about how the stars, specifically Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, are defeating the purpose of down time by playing their charitable exhibition matches, especially since Nadal has been a particular critic of the grueling season and Federer has praised the decision to extend the offseason.
It was revealed just about a month ago that the two final events in the year will be condensed so that the ATP World Tour Finals are held the week after the BNP Paribas Masters. As well, three smaller tournaments in the beginning of the year will be reallocated.
This causes an extra three weeks in the offseason, thus finally giving the players enough time to heal problems, and inflammations, as well as to recover physically.
However, with the "Match for Africa" came criticism. "If you're going to shorten the season, the players need to show some respect about not playing exhibitions," said Bill Rapp, the tournament director for the SAP Open in San Jose, California. Adam Helfant, the executive chairman and president of the ATP, said the reason they shortened the season was indeed to preserve the careers of the players but if at any point they think that things aren't exactly going as planned, they will revisit the idea of shortening the season.
The truth is though that within seven weeks of offseason the game's top players can easily become rusty and lose their form. And so, by playing exhibitions, they can prevent their finely tuned strokes from being eroded.
But, there is more to it than that.
In exhibitions, players don't have to worry about ranking points; they can play without pressure and they don't have to play six or seven days in a row, which means less of a toll on their bodies. But even if their bodies are being used up, essentially, the players are still resting—mentally. They can go out there, enjoy themselves, hit good shots here and there and please the crowd.
Every professional tennis player enjoys getting time to mentally rest. Case in point: after winning his semifinal epic in the US Open this year, Djokovic was grateful for the sudden extra day of rest before the finals due to rain. Not necessarily because he was physically tired, but because he was mentally tight. Even the top players need time to relax.
So, the ATP should stop criticizing the players for playing matches in the offseason, because they have forgotten one important point: in spite of doing so, the game's players are still recovering mentally.