| It will be tough for Federer
The distributed images of Roger Federer arriving at Pu Dong airport in Shanghai for the approaching Masters Cup showed him only from the waist up. We have, therefore, to assume that the world No. 1 walked unaided through the hysteria of the arrivals hall and hopped into the back of a limousine that transferred him to the city.
Three weeks ago, doubts abounded as to whether the Wimbledon and US Open champion would board a flight at all, for he was on crutches after damaging ankle ligaments during a practice session. The assumption that the 24-year-old is desperately keen to retain his title for a third time is accentuated in that he landed in Shanghai a week before Sunday’s opening exchanges. That bodes well, but surviving five matches in seven days may be asking too much.
Rafael Nadal and Andre Agassi have checked in, too, but there are plenty of nervous tennis executives in the vicinity. The decision of Lleyton Hewitt, twice a Masters champion, not to make the trip is a severe blow to the event’s prestige, although the fact that the Australian’s wife is three weeks from delivering their first child is reason enough not to want the hassle of another trip. A share of the '3m golden pot would have helped with the supply of baby baseball caps ' to be worn back to front, of course.
Nadal, the world No. 2 from Spain, had to sit out the final two events he was entered for, to rest his injured knee; Agassi has not played a match in two months, cancelling all but those engagements that involved his charitable foundation, to rest his ageing body; Guillermo Coria, of Argentina, heaped most praise for his ability to compete in November on his medical staff; Nikolay Davydenko, the Russian, has a sore serving shoulder; while Ivan Ljubicic, of Croatia, played the Paris final last weekend with strapping on his right knee.
This all may seem to be negative, what with the Chinese desperate to show off their pristine 15,000-seat Qi Zhong Stadium, the construction of which was completed on time for this event.
It would be a shame for what is regarded as the glorious finale of the men’s year to founder on the rock of aching limbs, but perhaps that is what it is going to need for the sport to address ' once and for all ' how much it should properly ask of its highest-profile participants.
Tennis players are hurting and that means the sport hurts, too. Unchecked advances in racket and string technology, the slowing down of too many court surfaces, the blinkered emphasis on top spin, all have contributed to the glut of injuries that conspire against the back end of the season.
Cedric Pioline, the former Wimbledon finalist and now joint tournament director in Paris, bemoaned what he regards as a dismissiveness of tournaments such as his, the cr'me de la cr'me of the tour.
“What has happened this year is a dysfunction,” he said.
Rather than be put under pressure to play more, they should be given the chance to play less. Pioline and his ilk should get together and realise that nine Masters Series events is at least three too many, that they are spread disproportionately through the year and the ones at the start have an unfair advantage.
It requires firm leadership, the placing to one side of selfish motives for the common good, a sensibly planned and calendar that gives as many players as possible the chance to peak when they ought to be peaking. The creaks and groans emanating from Shanghai are echoes of a far more serious malaise.