Is it finally time to rethink the number of mandatory tournaments in tennis?

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Covering men’s tennis the past couple of years has felt like writing reviews of Grey’s Anatomy episodes.

Keeping track of all the injuries that have ravaged the tour and sidelined many of its top stars for extended periods of time has resulted in me having a an orthopedic surgeon on speed dial to be able to get expert opinion each time a player announces his bad news.

Injury is part of any professional sport – that is not debatable. But it’s also worrying when so many of tennis’ top stars are spending more time off the court nursing physical problems.

Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic, Tomas Berdych, Kevin Anderson… these are just a few of many players who have been forced to spend time away from tennis at some point during the past two years because of injuries.

Djokovic walked away from the Australian Open in pain over his ongoing elbow problem that kept him out of the game for six months in 2017. Murray wasn’t able to compete in Melbourne after undergoing hip surgery for a problem that also had kept him sidelined since Wimbledon last year. Wawrinka had double knee surgery last August and missed the same amount of time as Djokovic did, with his return at the Australian Open short-lived as he still works on regaining full fitness.

Nadal’s latest setback was an inner hip muscle problem that hampered him during his five-set loss to Marin Cilic in the quarter-finals on Tuesday. It will require him to rest for three weeks.

He told reporters at Melbourne Park that officials running the ATP tour should investigate all these injuries and think about the health of their players – who are essentially the tour’s product that brings in all the money and attention.

Nadal, Murray and many others have long made the argument that the ATP should adjust the schedule, which runs from January until late November each year.

Cilic does not agree and said on Tuesday that it’s up to the players to choose a schedule that suits them and that cutting down on tournaments would hurt the tour and its global reach.

But that’s easier said than done. Players aren’t that free to choose tournaments. There is a minimum number of events players are required to compete in: eight mandatory Masters 1000s, four Grand Slams, ATP Finals (if they qualified), four ATP 500s, one of which must be in the period after the US Open, and two more from 250s or other tiers.

If you’re someone like Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, or Murray, then you’ve been contesting all these events for more than a decade, making it deep into the draws of most of them. Those aren’t players who have a couple of good tournaments each season and lose first round the rest of the year. They’ve experienced great success and their bodies have paid the price for it – to different degrees of course.

Nadal and Murray have backed the idea of having less mandatory tournaments required by the ATP, which wouldn’t result in the season getting shorter, but would allow players to have more flexibility with their schedules.

If the ATP chiefs are worried they wouldn’t have their top stars at the big tournaments if they’re no longer mandatory, they might want to look closer at the ever-growing list of injured players, who are missing events anyway because they simply cannot play.

The top five players in the world rankings at the end of 2016 were: Murray, Djokovic, Raonic, Wawrinka and Nishikori. They all shut down their 2017 seasons early for injuries and their rankings now are: 19, 14, 23, 8, and 24. Wawrinka will drop from No8 to 15 after the Australian Open.

Are we getting to a point where if you succeed one season, you have to fall apart the next?

The issue of the tour and the schedule has been a never-ending saga. It’s finally tie to put some real thought and action into the issue and coming up with realistic solutions. Revisiting the mandatory tournaments structure would be a good place to start.

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Boris Becker appeals for help in tracking down missing Grand Slam trophies

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Boris Becker alongside Billie Jean King ahead of this year's Australian Open.

​Bankrupt former tennis star Boris Becker on Wednesday appealed for help in tracking down five missing Grand Slam trophies which he needs to sell to help pay off his debts.

The German shook up the tennis world at Wimbledon in 1985 when, as an unseeded player, he became the then youngest-ever male Grand Slam champion at the age of 17, defending the trophy the following year.

Becker, 50, went on to win six Grand Slam trophies in a glittering career and reached world number one, amassing more than $25 million in prize money.

But the German, who coached former world number one Novak Djokovic to multiple Grand Slam titles, was declared bankrupt by a court in London last year.

His London-based bankruptcy trustees said in a statement issued on Wednesday that Becker had helped collect some of the trophies and other memorabilia that he amassed during his career.

But the trustees added: “A number of the trophies of Mr Becker’s career are unaccounted for as Mr Becker is unable to recollect where they are located.”

The statement said the All England Tennis Club, which hosts Wimbledon, the German Tennis Federation, the US Tennis Association, Tennis Australia and the International Tennis Hall of Fame, do not appear to have the missing trophies.

“Mr Becker and his bankruptcy trustees are therefore issuing a joint appeal to the public for any information that may assist with locating Mr Becker’s missing trophies, which include the trophies for his victories at the Australian Open (1991 and 1996) and Wimbledon (1985, 1986, 1989), The President’s Challenge Cup (1985 and 1989), and The Renshaw Cup 1989).”

Anyone with information is encouraged to contact the joint trustees via email at [email protected]

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Serena Williams to make her comeback at next month's USA-Netherlands Fed Cup tie

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Serena Williams, who has not played a competitive match since capturing last year’s Australian Open, will return to the court next month at a Fed Cup tie, the United States Tennis Association announced Tuesday.

Williams was pregnant when she won her 23rd major crown last January in Melbourne. She gave birth to a girl, Alexis Olympia, last September and married father Alexis Ohanian in November.

The defending Fed Cup champion Americans will play host to the Netherlands in a first-round tie February 10-11 on an indoor hard-court at Asheville, North Carolina.

Joining 22nd-ranked Williams on the US squad will be her sister seven-time Grand Slam champion, Venus, and ninth-ranked CoCo Vandeweghe, a semi-finalist at last year’s US and Australian Opens in her best major results.

This will be the first time in two years that either Williams sister has been on the US Fed Cup squad. The US women have never lost in eight ties when both Williams sisters have been named to the squad, the most recent of those wins in 2015.

Last year’s US Open runner-up Madison Keys was not named in the squad but she told reporters in Melbourne on Wednesday that she spoke with team captain Kathy Rinaldi, who asked her to commit to the second Fed Cup tie of the year instead.

Keys is thrilled Serena is coming back.

“I think it’s always great to have Serena around and playing. She’s the best female tennis player ever, arguably the best tennis player ever. So to have her playing in the sport is always good. Also to have her playing Fed Cup, it’s always fun to be on a team with Serena. I’m very much looking forward to having her back on the tour,” said the 22-year-old Keys.

Serena last played Fed Cup in April 2015, when she won two singles matches in a World Group playoff loss to Italy in Brindisi.

Venus, ranked fifth, won two singles matches in her most recent Fed Cup appearance in a 2016 tie against Poland in Hawaii.

Vandeweghe went a combined 8-0 in singles and doubles for the US Fed Cup team last year, the first player with eight wins in the same year in more than 20 seasons.

The final member of the US squad and the Dutch line-up will be announced next week, the USTA announcement said.

The Americans are 6-2 against the Dutch in their all-time rivalry, but the most recent meeting was a 5-0 US home sweep in 1998. The only Dutch wins came in 1968 and 1997.

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