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Murray blow highlights need for ATP leadership

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Jonathan Overend | 09:02 UK time, Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Andy Murray's withdrawal from the ATP World Tour Finals in London was a hugely disappointing end to his best ever season.

He didn't want to let anyone down - even mentioning his back-up team as well as supporters and event organisers - but it was a sensible decision and the only viable one from the moment he aired his doubts during Monday's post-match press conference at the O2 Arena.

In the final tournament of the year, the risk of aggravating his groin strain - sustained in practice last Monday - was too great. Had the strain become a tear, his off-season training, an unseen yet essential part of his year, would have been wrecked.

The first major of the year, the Australian Open in Melbourne, comes in the third week of January and he can't jeopardise his chances by being undercooked in any way.

Murray's early departure from the Tour Finals highlighted the strains on modern players. Photo: Getty

Having said that, how he managed to run the world number five David Ferrer so close with a groin strain is something of a medical mystery. It was a decent effort to even give it a go.

And so, yet again, we return to the subject of too much tennis and the punishing demands on the leading stars who, right now, are selling the sport to the world like never before.

"Maybe I should have missed Basle, missed Paris," Murray pondered remorsefully in a quiet room here at the O2. "Maybe that's my mistake for not looking further ahead."
He observed Djokovic and Federer missing the autumn Asian swing, and Nadal missing the European indoor events before London, and understandably asked himself whether he should have done something similar.

But he wants to play, he wants to honour commitments. Players have a certain quota of mandatory tournaments, to help gain sponsors and TV contracts, yet current evidence suggests it is almost impossible for the top players to do everything and stay fully fit for 11 months.

The ATP, the governing body of men's tennis, is facing a tricky few months, with a leadership vacuum and this issue of scheduling front and centre.

It needs to think about the placing of tournaments, the number of mandatory events and the periods of the year when strategic breaks can be taken by the top guys without the pressure of letting down big tournaments.

This can only achieved with the decisive, visionary leadership of a new chief executive. Current CEO Adam Helfant has days rather than months remaining on his contract and the seemingly endless search for a replacement drags on.

It's important they get the appointment right, and the board of directors has been meeting every day this week here in London, but a new boss is urgently required to make a measured, sensible judgement, hard if necessary, about the way forward for the sport.

Maybe one of those directors, Justin Gimelstob, who moonlights as a TV personality, will find a suitable candidate as he cruises the venue with his camera crew. One presumes that's what he's doing out on Entertainment Avenue?

Meanwhile on the tennis court, without much of a care for injuries, Murray, Gimelstob or calendars, a raucous capacity crowd at the O2 enjoyed Roger Federer's extraordinary thrashing of Rafa Nadal.

What a performance - 28 winners in Swiss precision, 60 minutes exactly.
It's hard to say this was Federer at his best but it was more than enough to check the view of anyone who thinks the 16-time Grand Slam winner is on the decline. It was a quite brilliant reminder of his exceptional, history-making talent.

On this evidence, he has at least one more major left in him and, while he's at it, if he wants to apply for the post of ATP chief executive, I'm sure he'd get an interview.
Player-manager? I'm not sure he needs the hassle...


  • Comment number 1.

    To quote your article ""Maybe I should have missed Basle, missed Paris," Murray pondered remorsefully in a quiet room here at the O2. "Maybe that's my mistake for not looking further ahead."
    He observed Djokovic and Federer missing the autumn Asian swing, and Nadal missing the European indoor events before London, and understandably asked himself whether he should have done something similar."
    I think that says it all. Federer creates time for himself to heal often. Rafa did it this fall and it is something he needs to do more often given his practice regimen. Rafa doesn't need to play Monte Carlo (optional) or Barcelona. Murray needed to sense his body more after Shanghai or maybe not have played 3 weeks in a row. He wanted to end the year no 3 but is that more important than possibly winning the Tour finals or winning a Major next year. 3 or 4 gets you the same place in the draw. Winning the big tournaments and Majors are what are important right now. The ranking will come with the big wins.

  • Comment number 2.

    So this is the same Andy Murray who only a couple of months ago was complaining about too many mandatory tournaments. Then goes and plays more tournaments than was necessary. Doesn't really back up his argument does he?!

  • Comment number 3.

    Murray took the opportunity to rack up points on the Asian swing and had a terrific run in the absence of the rest of the Fab Four - I don't blame him for it but he really needs to manage his schedule better.

    Rafa/Djokovic/Murray all play a physically demanding style of tennis which takes a toll on their bodies. Federer's style is much more economic and natural and explains his relative lack of injuries and longevity.

    As to last nights match that was one for the purist, Federer simply took tennis to a different level that even a fully fit Rafa would have struggled to match in that arena.

    It was a privilege to witness a display of elegance, skill and sheer artistry from a player who is the exemplary sportsman of his generation both on and off the court.

    The modern game is fast and hard hitting leaving little room for the nuances and subtleties of the beautiful game of which Federer is the finest exponent.

    The game evolves but this is truly a golden era.

  • Comment number 4.

    As far as I can see there is no evidence connecting this injury with the Asian swing of the tour. There is no conclusive evidence that playing Basle or Paris caused the injury either.

    However, if you look at the field, only Federer of the top four seems injury free. He took a month or so off and is fit.

    If Murray had taken that time off he would have been decried as lazy by the large element of the English public still taken in by the "anyone but England" story shamefully repeated by the BBC and the English press. Many of my wife's relatives are English and almost all swallowed what the BBC and the rest of the English media wrote. Murray didn't take the time off and he is criticised for playing - the truth is that many English people will find fault with anything he does.

    The ATP Tour Finals is the loser in all this, it would have been a great spectacle had all of the top four been fully fit but the demands of the ATP/ITF have made it well nigh impossible for the current schedule to result in anything other than a weakened event. The ATP/ITF need to get their act together - the current schedule was conceived for a game with less physical demands than these guys have now.

  • Comment number 5.

    Such a shame that the tournament is blighted by injuries/fatigue seemingly every year. Last year wasn't so affected but '09 was awful for that. I don't think it's just about scheduling though - look at the number of games the top 4 have played this year:
    ND - 73, RN - 79, AM - 68, RF - 71

    Murray needs to look at his training, his diet, his style, everything to make sure he's not selling himself short in any department. Given that Federer is the oldest there but looks in easily the best shape, and has never retired from a match, there must be something Murray can learn from him.

    I did a little pre-tournament analysis by the way...

  • Comment number 6.

    I don't think Federer is 'in the best shape'- like meninwhitecoats said he has an elegance and efficiency that mere mortals can only dream of. I think the other 3 are quite a bit fitter, but Federer is such an elegant mover, and is probably the most intelligent sportsman that has ever lived. Murray is ridiculously professional is his diet, fitness regime etc., I don't really think there is much scope for improvement there.

    I still think that Federer NEVER having retired from a match is one of the most astounding stats around. it's just unbelievable- his consistency in terms of latter stages of tournaments is simply unreal, I just don't know how he does. That, and the 20 consecutive semi finals or whatever it was, are probably the two most impressive feats in the history of tennis. I think it's far harder to do both of those than dominate for a shorter period of time.

    I think I'd like to see him go slamless for a year or two...then grab wimbly in the twilight of his career like Sampras did with the US. As long as Muzza wins it the year before.

  • Comment number 7.

    maybe not overall, but certainly in this tournament, I'd say he is. Murray is evidently not, Nadal threw up during his first match and was barely there against Federer, and Djokovic probably put in more UFE against Ferrer than the rest of the season together, and just looked weary and disinterested. No question it's down to Federer's style as much as anything else, but that longevity and fitness is part of what makes him great, as well as the awesome shot-making ability

  • Comment number 8.

    There should be no tournaments held for at least 2 weeks before the World Tour Finals to give the top players a better chance of being fit and fresh.

  • Comment number 9.

    On the off chance that some of you may know Andy Murray personally...can you pass on the message that he needs to stop moaning and get a grip. When he (inevitably) starts to go in a huff about that, remind him that he has world class ability and that you're only saying all this for his own good.

  • Comment number 10.


    Well said...

    Whats so frustrating is that we know Murray has the skill but its between the ears where it all falls down.

    Other contenders such as Henman never really had it, there was always something quite comical about how he used to flap his serve, then waddle over to the net, as one of the games last serve and volleyers. The name Tiger Tim says it all really.

    Murray on the other hand is completely different proposition.

  • Comment number 11.

    How strange Murray comments that he may be getting under Rogers skin!!! Then he sees how wonderful Roger plays.. Suddenly he is injured HMMMMM I wonder. Was he afraid??? Anyway it was, from my point of view, the best thing for the tounament. I just love him to loose. He is not a good sportsman and constantly lets his (few I admit) fans down.

    Come on THE REST

  • Comment number 12.

    Murray is not such a good tennis player, for all his natural ability to play good tennis when he wants to, if he can't set himself up for the Slams and beat the big boys there, then it's all meaningless. He'll never beat Federer, Djokovic or even Nadal in a Grand Slam final, because in his head : he doesn't believe he can do it.

    Federer is an exceptional player because his style of play is still unmatched today. He can win games and he won't even have broken a sweat, he's an artist on the court, his ability to find angles with ridiculous accuracy and unerring consistency is uncanny. His younger challengers (Nadal and Djokovic) are definitely very talented, but I don't think they'll have the longevity Federer had. He's a one-off.

  • Comment number 13.

    There's clearly something very wrong at these Tour Finals, Murray succumbed to Ferrer and then Djokovic lost to him even more dramatically. Murray has brushed Ferrer aside pretty easily twice in the last few months and I can't imagine a fully fit Djokovic losing so spectacularly to a player who may be able to run all day but in truth has no significant weapons in his arsenal. Ferrer may currently be number five but he's not exactly hot on the heels of the current top four.

    Watching Federer against Nadal was a delight and I'll never complain about watching an artist defeating a powerhouse but it seems to me that Federer's best chances to win tournaments are arriving at the end of the season when the other top players have physically pushed themselves too far. Unfortunately these Finals are going to be a poor showcase for the game when the Top 3 ranked players show up in unconvincing physical shape.

  • Comment number 14.

    First set down for Federer thought not as good as the last match - clearly due to the effect of a late night hot dog on a finely tuned athletes body.

  • Comment number 15.

    Roger Federer is an intelligent tennis player who has picked the tournaments in which he chooses to play so that he is as fit as possible for the end of the year "best of the best tournament". He has won the tournament 5 times, been runner up once and reached the semi-finals twice.

    In Nadal's magical 2010 year (three grand slams), he was beaten in the final by Federer. His record in other years has not been as good. Probably this is because of his physical style of play which leaves him spent at the end of the year.

    In four attempts, Murray's best effort have been to reach the semifinals twice (2008 and 2010). I don't recall complaints about his fitness or injuries in those years.

    We should celebrate the brilliant performance of Jo Wilfred Tsonga in this tournament as well as Wimbledon. His joyous behaviour when he wins and dances around the court in celebration are in sharp contrast with Murray's demeanour who looks dour and unhappy even when he wins.

    I expect Tsonga to displace Murray from the top four shortly and hope Jo can win one of the "Big Four" tournaments in 2012. He is a breath of fresh air in men's tennis.

  • Comment number 16.

    Tennis super stars like all other sports-persons are human after all. Sports governing bodies need to come up with a mission statement in which they spell out a healthy vision for their particular sporting event. Keeping in mind the limitations of the fragile human body is paramount in any endeavor that involves physical exertions and mental stress. Players, officials and fans need time to recuperate from excessive playing, traveling and viewing. The idea of sustainability has to enter our sporting culture in this era of globalization and sports marketing economy. Enhancing and prolonging the expression of ability and reducing the possibilities of disability has to enter our sporting culture. The age old principle of Tantum Quantum needs a place in our entertainment industry.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 17.

    Dr CC@16

    Maybe more byes into the later stages of tournaments would ease the strain on their bodies, although it is more likely the 5 set matches against each other that mentally and physically take their toll.


    I agree Tsonga is a breath of fresh air, even when decisions have gone against him he maintains his equanimity. I also like that he pays his defeated opponents due respect before launching into his dance of joy.

    He may be a bit of a rough diamond lacking Federer's polish but he is capable of beating any of the top 4 and is hugely entertaining. I expect 2012 to be a good year for him and would not bet against him causing a surprise at the ATP Finals.

  • Comment number 18.

    Poor Janko, he knows he has the quality to be a top 8 player and these 200 points don't really mean all that much to him at this stage.

  • Comment number 19.

    Whilst I would agree that Tsonga has had a strong showing at this tournament so far and is certainly a legitimate threat to win I don't quite understand how he seems to be being talked about as a young guy coming through here. He's two years older than Murray and Novak and has a mere seven titles to his name to date. Yes he has the game to match anyone on his day but he has never been able to ally this to a lengthy spell of consistency and really challenge the top players over an extended period of time. I will say that he at least seems to have eliminated his penchant for veering from the sublime to the ridiculous in the same set but he plays such a high risk game with a very low margin for error that when it doesn't come off he can look like a rank amateur. An acquaintance does some umpire work at Wimbledon and he informs me that Tsonga's matches are the hardest work of anyone to officiate because all his shots land right on the edge of the baseline and require some sort of judgement. When this works it looks like outstanding play, when it doesn't it can appear that he's never seen a racket before.

    I would wait and see before deciding that he'll unseat Murray in the rankings, we've seen the same said of Berdych, Del Potro, Soderling and Tsonga himself over the past couple years but he's still finished in the year end top 4 three years (soon to be 4) on the bounce. Whilst at their peak all of these players may possess a more dominant game than Murray none of them has a consistent record of regularly going deep into the slams like he does or of winning tournaments.


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