The Function of February: Tennis’ Second Off-Season?
By: Jane Voigt
Baseball ends in October. Basketball in June. Hockey around in July. Tennis closes its books in December, right?
The misconception of when the season ends could be easily attributed to the natural order of things, how tournaments are scheduled, and our own proclivity to see life on a January to December cycle.
But let’s face it: players might take a week – even ten days – to bronze their bodies at various and far-flung resorts, but they are typically back on the bicycle quickly, once the tedium of doing nothing wears thin and coaches prod their charges to attention.
Milos Raonic is a case in point. The Canadian had a career-best season in 2014, qualifying for the Barclay’s ATP World Tour Finals in November. He was ranked No. 8, pretty impressive stuff. When he hit the courts in Brisbane, anyone with decent vision could easily tell he’d toned up. In fact, he’d lost 15 pounds over the so-called off-season.
You don’t get fit and lose that type of weight basking on a beach.
Maria Sharapova flashed faster footwork in Brisbane and a sincere temperament to get things done in a tempo that matches her dogged determination. She had spent hours on court with her team – in silence, apparently – digging into the minutia of her already top-tier game. She won Brisbane, finished second to Serena Williams at the Australian Open, and made a quick pit-stop at Fed Cup, leading Russia to an emphatic win over Poland in Krakow.
We heard that she spent some time in the sun with boyfriend, Grigor Dimitrov. But we can hardly deem that week an off-season.
Here’s when the real-deal off-season begins: after the Australian Open. At least, it does for players who can afford more down time, awaiting the start of Dubai, an ATP 500-level tournament, on February 23 – perhaps Doha for the women the same week. It’s not the same for all, though. Each player has to fulfill a certain number of tournaments dictated by the WTA and ATP. And many scramble for ranking points throughout the year.
Serena and Venus Williams traveled to Argentina for a World Group II Fed Cup tie over the weekend. Venus came through as the MVP with two single rubber wins. Serena, though, sat out after one win due to a virus. Both stars went to Pilara – just outside Buenos Aires – to help the U.S. get back into the premier World Group.
“When USA calls, I answer,” Venus wrote on her web site.
The trip to Argentina is long, and switching to red clay from hard courts doesn’t turn on a dime – even for these two talents. Perhaps, then, the work that the sisters put in before Sydney and Melbourne carried them through the victory in South America.
Before Serena took off for Argentina, she announced her return to Indian Wells through a well-executed media campaign. It connected with the world on all media fronts and showed the number-one player as mature, centered and willing to move forward.
“It’s where I won my first professional match, but it’s also where I lost a piece of myself,” she said in the video.
This type of announcement from the world’s most-recognizable tennis star doesn’t roll off the production line in an afternoon. The tournament has long discussed her return to the desert oasis over the ten years that they have refused to relive the ever-present emotion turmoil.
Catrina Adams, President of the USTA, played a part in the reconciliation. Raymond Moore, the tournament’s Chief Executive, played another. Finally, tournament owner Larry Ellison called Serena directly, after she requested to talk with him. Many have interpreted this as the tipping point in her decision.
And what of Caroline Wozniacki? With a bummer of an Australian draw and result behind her, the 25-year-old Dane found her lovely figure plastered across the Sports Illustrated annual Swimsuit Issue: a life-time dream, she called it. Photographed and filmed in Captiva off the west coast of Florida, Wozniacki’s sunshine smile complimented her athletic body. Other tennis stars that’ve been photographed in tiny bikinis are Daniela Hantuchova and Maria Kirilenko. The former No. 1 also picked up a chocolate sponsor, getting in on Maria Sharapova’s pre-established sugar act by representing the Belgian chocolatiers over at Godiva.
The next time fans will see all their favorite players all together will be at the BNP Paribas Open, which runs March 9 – 22 in Indian Wells, Calif. The ‘Fifth Grand Slam,’ as it’s been nicknamed, will earn the complete and undivided attention of the media, starting about six weeks after the end of the Australian Open.
Andy Murray, Milos Raonic and Stan Wawrinka might be on hand in Rotterdam this week, each with an appetite to rid themselves of mental and physical lapses and not one of rest and relaxation, but make no mistake: each are eyeing Indian Wells.
The likes of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal won’t be seen anytime soon on the circuit. The same can be said for Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, now that their Fed Cup duties have been completed. These top players know how to fine-tune a schedule and take their seasonal respites during weeks not considered the normal off-season.
What do you think of the tennis world’s second-month respite? Sound off in the comments!
Great article! Good to see a piece that acknowledges the space between tournaments as much as the tournaments themselves. Got me thinking.
The year starts with a big bang at the AO, which sends all parts of the tennis world off in different directions and at various speeds into the tennis universe. Not just the players, but the fans as well! I’m glad for all of us that we get just a little bit of apparent down-time in February before we need to steady the ship for the main part of the season to begin.
In many ways – and especially after last year’s very involving Davis Cup final – it sort of seems like Australia is the last tournament of the previous year, rather than the first of the current year (especially for the men). I even get the feeling that this current break for Federer, between AO and his next tournament (Dubai?) will be longer than his break between Davis Cup final and Brisbane.
Well said, David. That the season ends after the AO.
Personally, I’ve never quite understood the assumption that February is a month off. I don’t follow the ATP but on the WTA side the narrative just doesn’t pan out. Two Premier level events, three Internationals and a Premier 5 that if I remember eight of the top ten are entered into? That’s not a month off.
I simply do not see how a month that goes Premier-Premier5-Premier can be called month off. In terms of tournaments it’s a bigger month than many. It’s a bigger month than April and nobody calls April a month off. I feel like there’s this belief that February is a month off and people stick to that even though objectively it’s not. It might be a month off for US tennis fans since the time zones aren’t conducive for easy viewing but for non-US tennis fans and the players it’s pretty packed.
It doesn’t feel right at all to call February the ‘month off’. Not only is there Fed Cup, there’s the Dubai-Doha pair, as well as the Antwerp Indoor event. Whilst players might take a week or so off, I’m sure that most Top 100 players, bar injury will play at least 2 weeks in the month. The real ‘month off,’ especially for the WTA, is July – the only month without ANY WTA events with Premier status.
Wozniacki did her SI photoshoot in November, not after the Australian Open.
Mrs. Voigt often writes factually incorrect info in her articles…
We can see how the original sentence might imply the two were sequential; it has been edited to clarify that they were not.