Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Tennis [Print without images]

Thursday, September 27, 2007
Updated: September 28, 12:34 PM ET
It's plug-pulling time


If you were the promoter of the Thailand Open right about now, somebody with a bullhorn would be looking up at you on the ledge, pleading with you to step back, think it over, and realize what a good life it really is. That's because Andy Roddick, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic all withdrew from the hard-court event before playing a match, although Roddick waited until an hour before he was due to start before he pulled the plug.

Then you probably would jump as well, because this is "plug-pulling season." So why not?

The time between the U.S. Open and the year-end championships is a strange twilight zone when you can throw the form charts out the window and turn to the medical charts to figure out the real meaning of expressions like "sore lower back" and "a weird feeling in my knee" or "Man, I'm sick of playing tennis!" With all due respect to the Thailand Open -- Hey, even local idol Paradorn Schrichapan took a pass! -- fall is the dispensible season, filled with (mostly) indoor events that stand in the same relation to most of the year's events as stuffing stands to a turkey.

We all like stuffing. If there's nothing else around, we'll eat it by the bucket. But it's the turkey that counts, and by the end of the U.S. Open, the turkey is gone.

There are exactly two important tournaments during the fall, the Madrid Masters and the Paris Indoors Masters -- you know, the one that has been a pretend Masters of late. In Paris, the body count of injured players reads like a tennis Who's Who. The top players, with the exception of those involved in Davis Cup or in a close race to qualify for the Shanghai Tennis Masters Cup, throw the kill switch after the U.S. Open. It's an open secret.

Not that this doesn't leave some interesting scenarios, if you like watching, oh, Nikolay Davydenko and Dominik Hrbaty (last year's Paris finalists) slug it out for a nominal Masters title. But the bottom line is that if the time between the start of the Australian Open and the end of the U.S. Open represents the feeding frenzy for the Great White sharks of the game, the time between the end of the American nationals and Shanghai is the feeding frenzy in the guppy tank.

The fall is for leaves and other semi-dead things, like tennis players who have screwed up big time during the year, and are now in a panic to regain valuable ranking points to bolster their year-end rankings. Did someone say Fernando Gonzalez?

Come fall, you can neatly divide the ATP crowd into ranking-padders and plug-pullers. To see which group your guys belongs in, just check where they sit in the rankings compared to the beginning of the year.

Oh, the Madrid Masters still manages to pull some street cred, but as for the rest of the fall, all I can say is enjoy the stuffing. Sorry, but we're even out of the cranberry sauce.