Is the women's season too, um, short?
"You just can't win." Is there a truer phrase anywhere? The WTA might be asking itself that as we speak. Everyone told them their season was too long, and that it was causing injuries to players. So the tour goes through a semi-Herculean three-year effort known as the Roadmap to shorten the season, and what happens? At the end of it everyone is still injured. In fact, more top players are injured or ill than ever. The WTA's showcase event this week in Doha, the one that they wanted to keep everyone healthy for, is going on with virtually none of the tour's marquee names. Williams, Williams, Henin and Sharapova are out. Which would be plenty, but the list goes on from there, and even includes two players who showed up at the event, but who put out virtually no effort on Tuesday, Jelena Jankovic and Elena Dementieva.
It might seem absurd, not to mention unfair, to now turn around and ask if the WTA has shortened the season too much. It's not as though 10 months on the road are just a long walk in the park. But a blog, as much as anything else, is a place to think out loud, and I've been thinking this week about how reducing the post-U.S. Open stretch of the season may also reduce the women's interest in playing it.
The WTA schedule now ends six weeks after the U.S. Open. The ATP's continues for another month. Is it a coincidence that so many women decided to "pull the plug" early in the fall and hang up their rackets until 2011? Some players were clearly incapacitated -- Agnieszka Radwanska and Venus Williams both needed surgery -- but others made the move for precautionary reasons. It was hard to tell what happened to Serena Williams, except that the WTA's biggest draw wasn't seen by any paying customers after Wimbledon. Meanwhile, the men, knowing that they had a good two months left and all the cash and ranking points that come with it, made Shanghai the first Masters in years to feature every one of the top 20 players.
Maybe having all of the women with lingering injuries and illnesses just call it a season will be beneficial for next year. Everyone will have had a few more weeks to get ready for 2011. Besides, as we saw Tuesday in Doha, it doesn't do anyone any good to have sick or unmotivated players go through the motions at the end of the year. But encouraging them to get healthy at the expense of its own events can't be what the WTA had in mind. They wanted a better-rested group of players, and it looks like they're going to get them. You can hear tour officials muttering all the way from Qatar: "You just can't win, can you?"