• What the Deuce

Desert shindig undermines serious scheduling concerns

Jo Carter January 3, 2012
Rafael Nadal kicked off the new season in Abu Dhabi, but was it a sensible move? © PA Photos
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Just six short weeks ago, the world's best players were walking wounded. Andy Murray limped out of the ATP World Tour Finals with a groin injury, Novak Djokovic admitted he was spent after struggling with a shoulder injury and Rafael Nadal had lost his passion. Even the tireless David Ferrer admitted he was exhausted.

It was a case of last man standing as Roger Federer, who had enjoyed a few weeks off after the Davis Cup in September, claimed his sixth year-end title. But Federer's fitness was an anomaly as his rivals limped over the finish line.

It was plainly evident that the ATP Tour season was an unsustainable battle of the fittest, underlining the top players' calls for a shorter season, a poignant reminder of Andy Murray's earlier threat of strike action.

"There is extra stress on the body... we work hard and don't get much of a break," Murray said back in September. "We need to have some say in things that go on in our sport, which right now we don't at all really."

But before new ATP president Brad Drewett could get his feet under his new desk, and even before 2012 had arrived, Nadal, Djokovic and Federer were back in action at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi - picking up substantial appearance fees to play in the six-man exhibition event.

The 2012 season has been shortened by two weeks to accommodate the wishes of the players, and yet Nadal and co risk looking like hypocrites by kicking off their season two weeks earlier than necessary.

To add insult to injury (literally), Nadal revealed that he would take a month off after the Australian Open to recover from a nagging shoulder problem - and yet he was happy to risk the injury for the sake of a nice big cheque in Abu Dhabi.

You cannot blame the top players for accepting easy paydays - tennis is their profession, and nobody would turn down a high-paid job which requires little effort. But when players are so resolute in their calls for the season to be shortened, they are seriously undermining their cause by playing in tournaments like Abu Dhabi.

It's unrealistic to expect the top players to win week-in week-out, but when they stagger out of the World Tour Finals, what should be the fifth biggest event of the year after the grand slams (perhaps relegated to sixth this year after the London 2012 Olympics) claiming they need a longer break, they are not doing themselves any favours.

The wellbeing of the players should be paramount for the ATP, tournament organisers, tennis fans and of course the players themselves, but if they want to be taken seriously, they must put their fitness before the health of their bank accounts

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Jo Carter is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk