ATP Tour Time to Bring the End of Season to Life Again
Fans of David Nalbandian will know the featured photo above and fondly so- the Argentine proudly holding his 2005 ATP WTF trophy which he won ranked 12, as a replacement for Andy Roddick, beating Roger Federer in a five set final. Five set finals, inspiring upsets, surprise winners, the factors present in Nalbandian’s ’05 WTF trophy run added drama, variety and entertainment to the end of the tennis season. The Tennis Review argues it is time to bring the ATP end of season back to life once again.
Shorten the season and increase the quality
The Tennis season is one of sport’s longest, beginning, for some, a few days before the start of the next calendar year, and going all the way, for some, to Paris Bercy, and for several into late November with the WTF and the Davis Cup final.
For some players, the season never really ends with exhibitions such as the IPTL, and lower ranked players still fighting for points and prize-money on the challenger and futures circuits into late November and late December, which, with tennis such an expensive sport to take up as a career, is an opportunity to earn money all year round, one lower ranked pros cannot afford to lose.
Those players have to survive that far into the season first, though. Once the US Open is done, many players are burned out and injured, with the top ranked pros often withdrawing from tournaments from New York onwards, or, as has happened this season, some not even making it to the year’s final slam, Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori taking the rest of the year off in the season’s final quarter and Andy Murray withdrawing just after the draw was done, their absence allowing other players to pick up prize money and ranking points but meaning many tournaments lack the big names who draw in the crowds.
Fans burn out, too. Many fans switch off once the US Open is done with the tour staying with hard courts, outdoor and indoor, many of which are medium slow as already seen in the North American Summer swing and the Spring swing.
Speed up courts and add some variety
If you are going to keep the tour going after the year’s final slam, considering fans have already seen plenty of hard court tennis already in the season, why not give them something different?
One controversial tennis issue is surface homogenization so why not help settle this debate and have the final fifth of the year played on fast indoor courts like it used to be up until the early 2000s? Back in the 90s there were criticisms that fast indoor courts made tennis all about the serve, but things may have gone, in the eyes of some, too much to the other extreme with defensive tennis prevailing over offensive indoors.
If courts were sped-up, there would be plenty of fans, of fast court tennis and variety in general, who would stick with the tour all the way to a faster, and for those fans, a sweeter end, and for those fans who did like more extended rallies, there would still be some to satisfy them in the earlier rounds when baseline players were still in the event.
Speeding up the courts would also help players who were more aggressive and struggled outside of the Grass season (five weeks long in a fifty week season) and the odd event in Rotterdam, Cincinnati, and Shanghai. More tournaments suiting their style would allow aggressive players to climb the rankings, perhaps even get seeded for Wimbledon and the US Open. It would also encourage young players who enjoyed a more aggressive tennis style to adopt that game, and such versatility would only be good for the tour.
Watch highlights of the classic Sampras-Becker 1996 Stuttgart final below:
Make the WTF 32 person knock out event to engage more fan bases
For many fans, especially those of players outside of the top 8, there is little incentive to watch the season finale. There is the slight excitement of the chance your favorite player ranked from 9-16 could compete in the ATP WTF, as Nalbandian’s fans experienced in 2005, but even then most players and fan bases are excluded.
The ATP have tried to solve this problem for fans of the #NextGen who, apart from Sascha Zverev this season, are not ranked high enough to qualify for the finals by introducing the #NextGen finals but the gimmicks which will be used at that event mean it won’t be played in the conditions fans are used to and is in danger of being more exhibition experiment than a credible contest.
The ATP WTF is also a disappointment at times with the qualifying players struggling with injuries and exhaustion, and many a one sided match up playing out. Even the year end No.1 is often settled way before the season ending, last year being the first time the final decided the year end tour leader.
That lack of competition means the ATP WTF seems like a glorified money making exhibition rather than what it could be, and should be – an exciting finale to the year end. A 32 man event, or 48 with some first round byes, played indoors, on a fast court would mean the end of the year would both satisfy a multitude of fan-bases and allow more aggressive players to come forward.
It might also allow us to see another side of the tour’s established players, encouraging them to attack more and be more vulnerable, making them, in their vulnerability, more interesting.
Have a Fifth Set in the ATP WTF Final
With the two ATP WTF finalists likely to be in strong form, especially if the season were shortened, they could summon the energy to make a contest of the last final of the year, and not just any championship match, but a five set one, the format played in slams and Davis Cup, a match which, if they win, would see them crowned the WTF champ.
We would never have witnessed Nalbandian’s greatest moment, either, had we not had best of five set ATP finals- the Argentine came back from two sets down to win in five.
See the highlights of Nalbandian’s win over Federer at the 2005 WTF final below.
Turn the WTF into a fifth slam
Even better than a 48 player season finale would be a fifth slam.
Tennis has broken with tradition to move with the times often enough, such as changing from wooden to graphite rackets, changing technology of strings, kit and footwear, and changing the surfaces at slams and later the speeds. But one tradition tennis does not want to embrace is the idea of a fifth slam.
Slams are, in the eyes of some, the be all and end all of tennis, and the build up to slams is one of the most exciting and intriguing periods of the tennis season. A fifth slam, an idea advocated by tennis great John Newcombe, on fast courts, indoors, in a place like China, India, or Brazil, would add a whole new dimension to the sport, delivering a change in style to fans, widening the pool of slam champs (do we need the same winners year in year out that we now seem to have?) and adding an injection of unpredictability to the sport, a boost all sports need, and without which you get what we have now – an anticlimax of a season end when we could have a page turner instead.
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