Murray, Fed, Rafa work at own pace
April, 12, 2013
By Peter Bodo | ESPN.com
You can call this another transitional week in tennis, a seam week, or even something like baseball's All-Star break in reverse. After Miami, the big dogs went to sleep under the porch, leaving the rest of the pack to fight over what limelight and rewards exist out there. Whatever you call it, this is one of those weeks when you're gnawing on the inside of your cheek, waiting for something significant to happen.
Apologies to those of you whose idea of must-watch TV was the Robin Haase against Kenny de Schepper match in Casablanca (which may not even have been on TV).
It's another unique aspect of tennis, a sport with a 10-month season that has been vociferously criticized by Rafael Nadal and others as too demanding, too tiring, too conducive to injury. But the lull we've been living through since the end of the Miami combined event (with the exception of the Davis Cup, which is outside purview of the ATP tour) demonstrates for the second but not final time this year that you just can't compare tennis to the mainstream sports when it comes to seasons and offseasons.
Take the case of Andy Murray. The Scot, No. 2 in the world following his win in Miami, was out of action (along with everyone else) for a month and a half before the start of the year. Then he played two tournaments in Australia, including the first Grand Slam of the year. Then he was off for close to six weeks before playing Indian Wells and Miami. After Miami, he pulled back for another few weeks and will resume play in Monte Carlo.
I know that he, like his peers, needs to work on his fitness and his game. But he's played just five weeks of tennis (Indian Wells and Miami are 10-day events, but the bye system essentially makes it a one-week event for seeded players like Murray) since the middle of last November. Somehow, it just doesn't seem onerous -- even if he doesn't have a lengthy offseason because of it.
Then take the man Murray replaced at No. 2, Roger Federer. We last saw him at Indian Wells in mid-March, and we won't see him again until the Madrid event at the end of the first week in May. He'll have played all of five weeks in 2013 at that time. OK, the all-time singles Grand Slam champ is a dad now, and he's 31, a regular tennis grandpa. He's earned the right to play as little or as much as he likes. But, like a Ray Lewis or Kobe Bryant, he's still an enormous draw and at or close to the top of his game.
How about Nadal? Oh, his day is coming all right -- and soon. But since early July of 2012, he's played just four weeks. We all know it was an injury that kept him out of action for nearly seven months. Yet he didn't have surgery, and he returned and very quickly became a major force again. It's hard to imagine him playing any less while still remaining relevant at No. 5. And for contrast, consider this: David Ferrer, his Spanish countryman who inched ahead of Nadal to No. 4, has played eight weeks so far this year, and those are honest weeks because he went deep at every tournament he played except Indian Wells, where he lost in the second round. Like Federer, Ferrer is 31. But unlike Federer and the others under discussion here, he's shown that it's possible to play a lot as well as win a lot.
What all this shows is that tennis has evolved into a true flex sport in which the players can pretty much create their own schedules. It's a sport of intervals, built around five major occasions (the Grand Slams and the year-end championships).
In comparison to other sports, tennis operates under some kind of Mayan calendar that's hard to figure. But this option that enables players to tailor their schedules to their personal needs couldn't exist if the calendar were truly streamlined and fat-free, somehow compressed into a season more like you see in other sports, along with a longer offseason. And to those players who think that more traditional approach might be preferable, I can only say: Be careful what you wish for.