Former World number one Andy Murray will not be playing at the French Open this year. Nor will Miles Raonic, the man he beat in his last Wimbledon final. Meanwhile twelve-time Grand Slam winner Novak Djokovic finds himself seeded as low as 20, and Stan Wawrinka, winner of three Glam Slam titles, is ranked 23.
All these players, and many more, have been inflicted with serious injuries in recent year – Rafael Nadal has been plagued with a series of complaints for almost a decade, Roger Federer missed almost a year with a knee problem, and Juan del Porto has had multiple knee surgeries.
The list goes on and it does not only affect the men’s game. Simona Halep, currently the top ranked player, Garbine Muguruza, and Madison Keys are just a few of the top players who have spent significant time on the side-lines in recent years.
Whilst there have always been injuries in tennis, the problem appears to be getting worse, and the innovation of the shot clock, limiting the time between service points to 25 seconds, is likely to make the situation worse.
Whilst it has been brought in to speed the game up in the interests of the spectator, it may backfire in a spectacular way if the extra demands it places on players causes more of them to suffer injuries and miss tournaments.
And tournaments without stars is bad for everyone involved in tennis – organisers, sponsors, broadcasters and the paying public.
The main cause of these injuries is that there is simply too much tennis being played. There are too many matches and too little downtime for those at the top of the sport. The intensity of games, and the fact that there is not a day’s rest between matches, outside the slams, puts a major strain on players.
The off-season is getting shorter and shorter, allowing players less time to recuperate, and the effort to prepare for the Australian Open, the first major event in the tennis calendar each year, which is normally played in blisteringly hot conditions, can place great stress on already overworked bodies.
Added to this, the ATP and WTA make it mandatory, except for an elite few, for the top players to enter certain tournaments, so even if a player wanted to miss an event, they cannot for fear of facing a fine or other sanctions.
In addition, the way the world rankings currently work, means players force themselves to play to defend their ranking points.
The answer is for organisers to look at the schedule and reduce the number of events in the calendar. More flexibility should be given to players to skip tournaments, and the way the world rankings are determined needs an overhaul, so that missing an event does not cause a player to drop dramatically from one week to the next.
Something needs to be done otherwise more and more tournaments will be deprived of their biggest stars by injury. Whilst the shot clock might seem an innovation, tennis administrators should be careful they are not killing the golden goose by laying more burdens on already overstretched players.