Where to go from here?

(AP Photo/Ermindo Armino)

(AP Photo/Ermindo Armino)

Once again, Rafa’s knees seem to have contributed to his loss, this time in the finals at Rotterdam. No one knows at this point how much of an issue there is; Rafa as usual says little about it during his post match interview, reluctant to make excuses for his loss and take away anything from his opponent. Still, it’s bound to put fans’ nerves on edge and give a lot of tennis journalists reason to write a lot of nonsense about how his body won’t last much longer.

While I don’t believe that any problems evident in today’s final are serious, it’s pretty clear that Rafa and his team must always be mindful of finding a balance between maintaining match fitness and points and his health. Sadly, it’s also pretty clear that the schedule as it is currently structured make it hard for Rafa, or any player who consistently does well, to adequately manage both of those things.

The current ATP schedule requires all top 30 players to play in 8 Masters 1000 tournaments (and it still bugs me to tack on that pointless 1000) and four 500 level tournaments, one of which must be after the US Open in September. It doesn’t really sound all that unreasonable until you look at the calendar and see how packed together everything is. Rotterdam, for example, begins one week after the Australian Open ends, and after that there is one week before Dubai, the next scheduled 500 stop for Rafa. Dubai ends with only 10 days to the start of Indian Wells in California, a two week tournament that is back to back with Miami, another two week tournament on the other side of the country. Miami ends with only a week to go before Monte Carlo and the kickoff of the clay season, which begins with three back to back to back tournaments (MC, Barcelona, and Rome), then one week before Madrid. Madrid ends with one week to go before the second slam of the year, Roland Garros, which bumps right into the grass warm up tournaments (none of which, by the way, were given 500 status so there is one tournament that many players will feel obligated to play even though they don’t satisfy any ATP requirements), and then one week off until Wimbledon.

Whew. I’m tired just looking at that.

So, what’s a boy with a potentially wobbly knee to do?

It all depends on how serious the current issue is, of course, but my immediate suggestion would be to skip Dubai. Rafa usually plays there, and does well. However the fact is that from now until the start of Indian Wells is the only time Rafa will have to rest for more than one week until after Wimbledon. If there is even a slight problem with the knee, it seems to me he’d be best served by erring on the side of caution. If the problem should worsen in Dubai, or at least persist, there is precious little time to recover, and this is the most important stretch of the year for Rafa.

It’s tough to look at the calendar and see where his 500 commitments might be made up. Monte Carlo, though classified as a Masters 1000, does not count towards the Masters requirement. It can, however, count as a 500. Barcelona, too, though Rafa has hinted that he might not play there this year. It would be an understandable drop, given the three back to back tournaments that Barcelona falls into, and perhaps he was hoping for the Rotterdam/Dubai pair to give him some leeway in that stretch.

After Barcelona and Monte Carlo there is not another 500 level tournament until mid July, in Hamburg on clay. Even though this comes on the heels of the insane stretch of tournaments above, it might not be a bad choice, being on clay. However it falls in the middle of the only four week stretch Rafa may have to rest. Beijing might be a good choice, since he has to go to China in October anyway for the Shanghai Masters 1000.

So, here is my obviously expert opinion on Rafa’s schedule for the rest of 2009 (with Rotterdam added to count the 500s):

Rotterdam (500)
Skip Dubai to allow for three weeks of rest and recuperation.
3/12 Indian Wells (1000)
3/25 Miami (1000)
week off
4/12 Monte Carlo (1000, counts as 500)
week off
4/27 Rome (1000)
week off
5/10 Madrid (1000)
week off
5/25 Roland Garros
6/8 Queens
week off
6/22 Wimbledon
two weeks off
7/20 Hamburg (500)
two weeks off
8/10 Toronto (1000)
8/16 Cincinnati (1000)
week off
8/31 US Open
three weeks off
10/5 Beijing (500)
10/12 Shanghai (1000)
two weeks off
11/8 Paris (1000)
one week off
11/22 ATP WTF

None of this, of course, takes into account the Davis Cup ties. There are no good answers for the problems that the schedule presents to any player who consistently goes deep.

Just my opinion, here. I’m sure Rafa was waiting eagerly for me to weigh in. :)