Too Much Tennis

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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

If you think the hockey or the basketball or the baseball seasons are too long, take pity on the professional tennis player. The season just ended. It's time to put the racquet down, give those wrists and knees a rest, let the mind recuperate and rediscover enthusiasm for next year. But, unlike even the team-sport athletes who play deep into post-season success, who have at least four months to work on conditioning and healing and regrouping, the tennis crowd will be Down Under in Melbourne for the Australian Open in one short month. It's too much, I tell you. Not just for the burned out and oft-injured players, but for us fans as well.

The four Grand Slams, book-ended by Australia in January and New York at Labor Day, with the French Open and Wimbledon sandwiched in between throughout the summer, are sport's perfect world-stage events. The Slams span the globe, present varying court surfaces, and bring the world's best together four times a year for two-week showdowns that wind up defining the talents, the stamina, the personalities, and the character of today's tennis elite.

Once New York is done, your Slam champions have been feted and your World #1 players have been crowned, you're done, too. This year-end event that just played out for the women in Spain, the men in Shanghai, the top eight in a round-robin format, not the two-week drama of the Slams, has no appeal. It feels like an afterthought, lightweight in comparison to the reverence at Wimbledon. It's a thinly veiled excuse to squeeze more sponsorship dollars into the sport but it's beyond what the fans want…and it's more than the players' bodies and drive can tolerate. More and more, smaller tournaments woven throughout the Slams are dashed by last-minute dropouts and that's because these men and women can't go eleven months at peak performance. With the extreme grips that power the extreme two-fisted strokes today, wrists are consistently injured. We are seeing players withdraw more frequently with back and knee and shoulder issues.

And don't even get me started with the Davis Cup, which the American men won last weekend for the first time since 1995, beating Russia. International team competition is great but that's what the Olympics are for. Tennis was played in the Olympic arena in the first modern Games, Athens, 1896, and was included through Paris, 1924, but then the professional game and scheduling conflicts with Wimbledon took the sport off the Olympic roster. It reappeared in Seoul, in 1988. The Davis Cup also has a long history, dating back to 1900. A Harvard chap by the name of Dwight Davis proposed a tournament pitting US players versus English champs, but the Cup has evolved into a year-round zonal competition, played over four weekends, which makes it all but impossible to follow. The format alone makes no sense. Two singles matches are played on Friday. One doubles match on Saturday. And then what they call two reverse-singles matches on Sunday. That means it's the best of five matches. But what if one country wins the first two singles and the doubles, as the Americans did this past weekend in Portland? That means that all those good people who bought tickets for Sunday's singles sit through meaningless hours because the celebration already happened on Saturday. And what kind of tournament offers one doubles match for an entire day of tennis entertainment?

The Davis Cup has great tradition behind it but it succeeded in a simpler time, when the players weren't pressured by such a long, crowded schedule. I say we leave team play for country to the Olympic Games and end each year's season with the fourth Grand Slam. Or, once money is being made, is it simply impossible to ever again stuff the genie back into the bottle?

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.



Diana Nyad