x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Clocking air miles takes a toll on the top tennis players

Tennis is not always fun and games. So hectic are the ATP and WTA tours, players must sometime wonder where in the world they have woken up in.

Novak Djokovic visited the Burj Al Arab rehabilitation turtle facility this week. AFP
Novak Djokovic visited the Burj Al Arab rehabilitation turtle facility this week. AFP

With players racking up the hours in the sky to match time on the court, rest and relaxation is an important part of visits

Novak Djokovic in a pool with endangered turtles at Burj Al Arab. Janko Tipsarevic taking to the skies aboard a seaplane to get views of Palm Jumeirah, Burj Khalifa and Burj Al Arab. And Caroline Wozniacki enjoying the water rides at Wild Wadi.

The organisers of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships have made sure the world's top tennis stars will not quickly forget their time in the emirate.

But tennis is not always fun and games. So hectic are the ATP and WTA tours, players must sometime wonder where in the world they have woken up in.

Rafael Nadal recently complained that far too much tennis these days is played on hard courts - a prime reason for his seemingly interminable injury woes. But perhaps equally as damaging is the mental toll that the non-stop travelling around the globe and shifting of time zones takes on the professional tennis player.

Some travel with their coaches. Others alone, such as the new women's champion Petra Kvitova did when coming to Dubai this year. A few bring their families. And some, like Tipsarevic, often have an entourage accompany them. What is beyond doubt is that they have all clocked up thousands of air miles, and eventually it shows.

One of the biggest talking points in Dubai has been the heavy scheduling of the professional tennis circuit and the effect it increasingly has on players, both male and female. On the eve of the men's event, the world's No 1 and No 2, Djokovic and Roger Federer, stressed how important it is to manage their commitments to avoid burn out.

On the other hand, the Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga arrived in Dubai on Monday, just one day before his first match, having beaten Tomas Berdych in the Marseille Open final on Sunday. On Tuesday, looking tired and jet lagged, the 27-year-old world No 8 lost in straight sets to his fellow Frenchman Michael Llodra, a man five years his senior.

In the past few weeks, some of the world's best, and fittest, athletes would have travelled from Abu Dhabi to Brisbane and Sydney and then on to the Australian Open in Melbourne.

After that it is back to Europe for more hard court events. The Qatar Open was next. And now Dubai. And next week, Indian Wells, in California, which is a disorientating 12 hours behind the UAE.

Cynics may point to the money to be earned, but few athletes in other individual sports are subjected to similarly punishing schedules. And, according to the top players themselves, it seems to be getting worse.

Announcing last week she was pulling out of Dubai, for the second year running, the world No 2 Victoria Azarenka repeatedly blamed the number of tournaments on her injury troubles. After her Australian Open win, she said, her body could not cope any more.

"I took six days off, I didn't do anything, just tried to recover, but with the jet lag it is difficult to sleep," she said.

Taking a few days off to recuperate after a tournament is not always an option, especially if you have just played in a final. In fact, Azarenka was scheduled to play her first match in Dubai only two days after winning in Doha. Sometimes, even a few hours are not possible.

While in Abu Dhabi at the end of 2012, Andy Murray, who tellingly decided to give Dubai a miss this year to focus on the Indians Wells event next week, offered a glimpse of how the tour's heavy scheduling sometimes leaves little time to enjoy even the sweetest of triumphs.

"At the Olympics, you have commitments. I had the mixed doubles final about 45 minutes after the match," he said of the men's singles final in which he defeated Federer on Wimbledon's Centre Court. "I met up with my team and then started warming up for the doubles match, and after that we had to go into the Olympic Village, which is an hour and a half away, by car to do the press conferences."

There was, he said, no celebrations and no time to enjoy that gold medal.

"It was well after midnight after that so I just went home. I had to go to Canada the next day." Tired? He won one in Canada before falling to Milos Raonic.

Perhaps missing Dubai will give him the edge over his rivals at Indian Wells. This week, it is hard to look beyond the fresh-looking Djokovic and Federer for the next Dubai champion.

Just don't expect them to be swimming with turtles or knocking a few balls on the Burj Al Arab helipad afterwards. There is the little matter of 16-hour flight to California to catch.