Weekly Slice: Roddick, Nadal say ATP schedule is too demanding

First serve

Exhausted, injured, unhappy, spent, ailing and absent. No, that's not a list of this writer's current grumbles (I'm not absent), but instead it's a rundown on the condition of the six best tennis players on the planet.

While 2009 has been an exceptional season on the men's tour, with drama and intrigue from start to finish, the leading stars of the game are paying the price for their efforts over the past 11 months.

Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Juan Martin del Potro and Andy Roddick are all athletes in superb physical condition, but even they have been ground into the dust by the grueling schedule put together by the cash-hungry ATP.

Roddick and Nadal both spoke out this week about the folly of having a tour that begins at the start of January and ends in early December. Sure enough, a few hours later Roddick was the latest victim of the exhaustion curse, being forced to retire hurt from his opening match in Shanghai.

Federer had already decided to stay away, while Murray continues to nurse a wrist injury.

It is understandable that the ATP wants to show off its talent as much as possible, but by continuing to drag out the season like this it does nothing for the spectacle of the sport.

It is simply impossible for the top men to maintain peak performance without adequate rest, and it is time players' concerns were heard.

At least a month needs to be chopped off the campaign, to make sure that the first Grand Slam of the year, the Australian Open, is full of fresh and hungry players, rather than a weary brigade still struggling from the exertions of the previous year.

With its present format, the ATP is digging itself a hole and will have only itself to blame if its showpiece event, the Tour Finals, is populated by a second-rate field after a series of withdrawals.

Drop shot

The future of the Australian Open is again likely to come under scrutiny, after Tennis Australia revealed a record $7 million loss for the past year. Tournament organizers felt it necessary to top up prize money after the Australian dollar's depreciation, but the ongoing difficulties suffered by the national federation will only increase calls for the event to be moved into Asia.

Clean winner

Justine Henin has been given a wildcard into next year's Australian Open as the former No. 1 prepares to make her playing comeback. Asked by Belgian reporters if she could emulate Kim Clijsters by winning her first Slam after returning to action Henin shrugged and said, "Why not?"

Use your frequent flyer miles

Get yourself to Shanghai this week for the latest men's Masters Series event. Novak Djokovic is in fine form, having won in Beijing last week, but expect plenty of upsets as the top men limp toward the end of the season.

Last week's winners

  • China Open, Beijing: Novak Djokovic

  • Rakuten Japan Open, Tokyo: Jo Wilfried Tsonga

  • China Open, Beijing: Svetlana Kuznetsova

This week's predictions

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