The first three months of the tennis season pose some of its biggest challenges.
First, there is the sheer quantity of tournaments. From the second day of January to the last day of March, the tour squeezes in 16 hard court venues—five of them indoors.
Then there’s the reverse psychology factor. With time for just a couple of 250 events at the opening of the year—though most men play only one—the tour is suddenly plunged into the rigors of its first Major. Yet there is not a Masters in sight until the final fortnight of March when there are two on the trot.
And as if to mess with their heads and their games, the players face two contrasting paths before the paint has barely dried on the roll of honor for the Australian Open.
Should they take a break from the arduous hard courts and head for the clay of South American—proffered like an apple in the Garden of Eden? Or should they persevere with the surface that draws them down the weeks to the prestige and prizes of Indian Wells and Miami?
The temptations of the hard-court road in all their variety are certainly worth the effort. The two concluding Masters are the richest in the calendar, each offering prize money worth more than $3.6 million.
Along that same road there are also three 500 events in three consecutive weeks, the most of any season in the year: Rotterdam, Memphis and Dubai.
However the last of the three is the only one to offer comparable outdoor conditions to the North American Masters. It also happens to be the richest of all the 500s.