In each of the last two years, WTA Tour CEO Larry Scott has described the rash of injuries as a “fluke.” Time to make it three, or at least comment on the women’s state of the game, maybe hold a Women’s State of the Union address.
On Thursday, world No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo pulled out of Stuttgart with a shoulder injury. On Friday Elena Dementieva pulled with a quad strain. Over in Tokyo Friday, Anabel Madina Garrigues and Paola Suarez retired during matches with injuries.
Stuttgart organizers haven’t vented to the media, but they have to be frustrated this week after more than half the Top 15 women, before or during the event, withdrew with injury. More than half the Top 15. You can’t say that enough to have it sink in — more than half the Top 15 are injured.
Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin-Hardenne, Maria Sharapova, Lindsay Davenport, Serena and Venus Williams, now Mauresmo, Demetieva — all injured.
As “flukes” go, this is an fluke epidemic. Time to trade in Sony Ericsson as the sponsor for maybe WebMD, or an ambulance service.
The injury epidemic over the last few years has been hard to pinpoint since there are so many variables, including the technology advances in racquets, heavier balls, a heavier calendar, possible over-training, etc. The WTA Tour for the most part ignoring the problem over the last couple years has been a health sleight that the players are apparently able to put up with. But now the problem is extensively affecting women’s tennis fans on all continents.
This week Stuttgart fans should be thinking refund, if you compare the actual drawsheet to the pre-tournament publicity and the big names that were promised, and sold the majority of the tickets.
Around this time last year, seven of the Top 11 players were sidelined with injuries or illnesses.
WTA Tour CEO Larry Scott has held firm that the wave of injuries to the women over the last couple years are just happenstance.
“Injuries are a part of every sport,” Scott told Reuters last year. “It is a bit of a flukish that so many players are injured at the same time and I don’t expect this to happen next summer.”
It’s happened again this summer.
This week, with just about every marquee player except Martina Hingis (who took a three-year injury break) out with injury, can we get a WTA Tour update? Something?
I’d rather hear Larry Scott emerge from his office, murmur “Fluke!” to the media then retreat back into WTA headquarters rather than deal with the deafening silence of ignoring the issue.
This is why tennis is historically such a basement-dwelling, poorly-run, rarely-on-TV sport among the ranks of major organizations such as the NFL, MLB, the NBA, the PGA, etc. — the good of the sport always takes a backseat to cash. The WTA making a serious inquiry into player injuries with an independent panel might come back with results that would effect their bottom line — such as players should play less events (which would be less money for the WTA and tournaments), or that someone should put a rein on racquet technology (less money for racquet manufacturers, who have huge sway), or a re-do of the calendar (big headache and additional money woes).
When the ATP announced the Masters Cup would be moving to Shanghai a couple years ago, some voiced ‘What the hell? And that will help the game…how?’ With roughly a 6-to-12-hour difference from many of the major markets, it is a promotional and TV nightmare. The way it is treated in the U.S. sports market, the Masters Cup may as well not exist. The ATP explained at the time that it was an attempt to grow the game in Asia. In reality, it was the almighty dollar that closed the deal, with the flush Asians putting up the most cash. It simply went to the higest bidder amidst a “This is great for the game!” PR blitz.
New-ish ATP Chairman Etienne de Villiers earlier this week was surprisingly bold in assessing the move of the Masters Cup to Shanghai, which came before he entered the picture.
“It’s essential we bring [the Masters Cup] back to Europe,” de villiers said. “In the past, by necessity rather than by design, we’ve gone to cities where the check has been good and it hasn’t necessarily been the right city for the sport.”
Scott, who came to the WTA Tour from the ATP under former CEO Mark Miles, like Miles is a great politician. And there are times tennis needs great politicians. Scott is trying to bring about a calendar re-vamping so there will be less Tier I and II events and a longer off-season, but the going has been rough, and with many tournaments unwilling to budge on their calendar spots, it may not happen. The ATP announced a plan to change the men’s calendar by 2008, then abandoned the plan as too difficult. Change is hard, especially when someone somewhere is going to lose money.
Women’s tennis, mired as it is with injury problems, remains the world’s No. 1 most successful women’s sport, according to statistics. The “Roadmap 2010” plan and the “One Game” plan and the ATP’s “GAME” plan are great — it’s good to have plans, to know people are thinking about the good of the sport. Right now the WTA needs bold leadership, less chasing dollars, more caretaking of player health and fan satisfaction, less thinking, more doing.
“It’s a fluke” or “We’re working on it” has somehow worked for three years now without serious inquiry, but how long until the revolt by players tired of being injured, and fans tired of buying a ticket because Serena Williams is on the tournament billboard — but then not at the tournament?
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