Sports

Top tennis players say they're playing too much because the tournaments are too long

ROME — (AP) — More competition days, more tickets sold, more TV time, more money.

For tennis organizers, the long-sought upgrade of tournaments in Madrid and Rome — expanding them from eight days to nearly two weeks — has been a bonanza.

For the players? Well, they haven’t been nearly as enthusiastic.

With Madrid and Rome following already established two-week events in Indian Wells and Miami, several of the highest-ranked players — the ones who consistently reach the final stages of these tournaments — are growing weary of spending so much more time on the road.

"You got to be some type of superhero to be consistent back-to-back 10 days in each event getting to the very end of it," recent Monte Carlo champion Stefanos Tsitsipas said in Rome.

What bothers the top players is that these Masters-level tournaments are being modeled after Grand Slams but they’re still not as prestigious as the Grand Slams: the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

In essence, the tournaments in Madrid and Rome are merely warmups for Roland Garros.

“We wanted more drama and then we stretched the drama a bit too much, where it kind of becomes like the ‘telenova’ that was too many seasons,” said Victoria Azarenka, who was formerly ranked No. 1. “Hopefully we make some adjustments, because it’s too long."

Next year, the Cincinnati Open — a warmup for the U.S. Open — will also be expanded to the two-week format, which increases the draws from 64 to 96 players.

“People want to watch top players play against each other, week in and week out. … There is a market for that, but there has to be a thought to make sure we do take care of our players,” Azarenka said.

The top 32 seeds in the expanded events get byes to the second round, and all players get days off between matches — which is a change from the old format.

“The two-week Masters 1000 events is great for players that are ranked between 50 and 100 in the world because they get a chance to play a main-draw event at a Masters 1000 event. It’s not great for top-10 players,” fifth-ranked Alexander Zverev said.

“Yes, you do get told you have a day in between, you don’t have to play every day. At the end of the day that’s not resting. Resting is when you’re spending time at home, when you’re sleeping in your own bed, maybe with your family, maybe with your dogs, maybe with your kids if you have kids, right? ... A day between matches, if you’re at a different place, that’s not resting. If you’re trying to make semifinals or finals of every event, you’re just away a lot longer, and you have to work a lot more.”

The schedule has been a hot topic lately because of injuries to the men's tour's two top young players, Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz, even if their injuries might not be a direct result of the longer tournaments.

Sinner (injured hip) and Alcaraz (right forearm) both withdrew from Rome.

But injuries to top players are nothing new.

“I like this two-week format,” fourth-ranked Daniil Medvedev said. “I like when there is a day off. … I don’t think injuries would come from this format.”

Added 22-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal, "At the end the players want to make money. The tournaments want to make money. Then it's all (a) cycle that comes together. We accept that role."

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AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis

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