ATP Tour considers longer offseason after players keep complaining

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

NEW YORK -- For years, the top men's professional tennis players have complained about the sport's calendar and called for a shorter season.

They might be getting their wish soon.

The head of the men's tour said Wednesday that he will make sure there is a decision in the next few months on proposals to increase the ATP offseason from its current five weeks to seven or eight by 2012.

"There's never unanimity in tennis, but I think there is consensus that we need to do something about it," ATP chief executive Adam Helfant said in an interview with The Associated Press at the U.S. Open, "and even though this is something that's been talked about for a long time, and we haven't made progress, there is a commitment to make progress on it by the end of the year."

He wants a "formal decision" no later than at the last board meeting of this year, at the Nov. 14-21 season-ending tournament in London. Next season begins the first week of January.

Helfant wants "a lengthening of our offseason, so we can give our players more time to rest, work on their fitness and work on their games," he said.

There have been no talks with the Australian Open about moving it from January, Helfant said, indicating that any changes would involve ATP tournaments.

The ATP's medical committee has done research to compare tennis' calendar to the offseasons for other sports.

Players such as 2003 U.S. Open champion and former No. 1 Andy Roddick have sought changes for quite some time.

"I don't think it's a matter of opinion," Roddick said last month. "When you ask someone, 'Is the schedule too long?' The schedule is too long. I mean, that's not really an opinion."

Roddick's recent drop to No. 11 meant that for the first time in the 37-year history of the rankings, there were no U.S. men in the top 10. And Sam Querrey's loss in the U.S. Open's fourth round Tuesday means that this is the second consecutive year at Flushing Meadows with zero American men in the quarterfinals -- something that hadn't happened before 2009 in the history of a tournament that began in 1881.

But Helfant said that whatever problems American men have been having are not hurting the tour in the U.S. He cited several positives, including an increase of about 3 percent in attendance at the tour's events in the United States, a jump of about 20 percent in TV broadcasting hours and Thursday's announcement of the ATP's new global sponsorship deal with FedEx.

"I can understand why Americans would be concerned because they've gotten used to having guys dominate the top 10 ... but the game is global and the biggest problem Americans have is how play has developed outside the U.S.," Helfant said. "I don't think I have anxiety about it."

He also said of the 28-year-old Roddick: "I don't think he's quite done yet."