• Chris Wilkinson

Time for a scheduling shake-up

Chris Wilkinson March 3, 2012
It all went quiet after Novak Djokovic's Australian Open victory © Getty Images
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After all the excitement of the Australian Open, things tailed off a bit as players headed back to the practice courts to hone their game. It seems odd that after such a fast start to the season, it all goes quiet with just a handful of smaller tournaments before we head to Indian Wells for the first Masters event of the season in March.

There has been talk about the possibility of moving the Australian Open, but with such a major overhaul of the schedule there are a lot of factors to take into account.

By pushing the first major of the year back by a few weeks it essentially extends the off-season for the top players. When you think that the ATP World Tour Finals don't finish until the last week in November - that doesn't leave much time for a player to enjoy a holiday, get back into fitness training and back on the practice courts to be back in competition in early January.

But you can't just think about the players - the ATP has got to consider the impact on the other tournaments that would have to make way if the Australian Open was shifted back to February - the likes of Rotterdam, Dubai and the South American tournaments.

But perhaps there is a way of switching things around a little without too much disruption. The players start the year in Qatar, so why not stay in the United Arab Emirates for the Abu Dhabi and Dubai events (perhaps holding the South American tournaments simultaneously). Then we could head Down Under for the traditional Aussie Open warm-up events before having the first grand slam of the year in late February. A week of so off and then head to the States for the American hard-court events.

Why not start the season a little slower and let the players ease back into the season a little?

Nothing is simple and major changes take a lot of consultation and planning, but I don't think it would be a bad idea to shift the Australian Open back. The Olympics this year does clog up the schedule a little, but after such a fast start to the season it all goes a bit quiet at this time of the year. Why not start the season a little slower and let the players ease back into the season a little?

The players are in Dubai this week and in my mind it is only a matter of time before the event becomes a Masters tournament. It is superbly organised, fantastic facilities and the players are always so well looked after - it is one of the players' favourites. It could become like Monte Carlo - worth 1000 ranking points but not mandatory. The UAE has obviously been hosting the Pakistan v England cricket and Qatar has won the right to host the 2022 football World Cup, but the crowds are still only learning to love sport.

Andy Murray has shown signs of improvement in Dubai © Getty Images
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Whereas the European crowds and American crowds have grown up with tennis, it is still new in the Middle East. It takes time for the appreciation for the sport, but with the likes of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic playing every year, that obviously boosts the attendances.

Andy Murray has also been in action this week for the first time since his Australian Open defeat to Djokovic, and has been looking good. Having spent a good period of time on the practice court with new coach Ivan Lendl, it will be interesting to see the changes he has made to his game over the coming weeks.

With virtually no ranking points to defend, Murray can afford to play with freedom, but it is important that he is in the right frame of mind or he will struggle again like he did last year. A good run in Indian Wells and Miami could see him really boost his ranking points - and potentially overhaul Federer as world No. 3, although Federer also looks to be in good shape, winning in Rotterdam the other week.

Juan Martin Del Potro is another player to keep an eye out for - having reached the final in Rotterdam and won his first title of the year in Marseille, the Argentine looks to be getting back to his best. With so few points to defend from last year, he could make steady progress up the rankings in the coming weeks.

Murray's win over Djokovic on Friday means there will be no repeat of his 2011 heroics. It was inevitable that Djokovic drops points in the run-up to Wimbledon. There is absolutely no way he can repeat what he achieved last year. I do still think he will end the year as world No. 1, but the others will close the gap. I'm expecting Milos Raonic to break into the top ten sooner rather than later. Mardy Fish's days in the top ten are numbered. In fact, other than the big four, the top ten could soon look very different.

Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1

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Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1, who now serves as a tennis commentator and as a coach for the LTA. He is ESPN.co.uk's resident expert, providing an exclusive view on the world of tennis. Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1, who now serves as a tennis commentator and as a coach for the LTA. He is ESPN.co.uk's resident expert, providing an exclusive view on the world of tennis.