Woodbridge: The pressure of tennis’ March madness

Published by Todd Woodbridge

Like Bernard Tomic, Genie Bouchard has had a torrid US hard court swing. Photo: Getty Images
For tennis fans, March is one of the highlights of the calendar. But for players it is a month of unprecedented ranking – and financial – pitfalls, according to Todd Woodbridge.

From a spectator point of view, with Indian Wells and Miami back-to-back you have two fantastic events in March. They are two tournaments that are just below Grand Slam level, both played over two weeks. It looks great for the game.

But if you’re a player, and you’re not a Top 10 (although it can even happen to them), this is a difficult month. If you lose early in Indian Wells you don’t have another match for two weeks. Then, if you go to Miami and lose early again, you have had four to five weeks of playing two or three matches and no opportunity to accumulate points.

All of a sudden you go into a bit of panic mode, thinking: ‘where is my form at and how am I going to sustain my ranking?’ In that respect, these two tournaments become pressure-loaded for a lot of players.

They are also loaded in the sense that if you are not a clay court player, these are must-win events. If you have a difficult hard court season and you struggle on clay, which is the case for someone like Bernard Tomic, then you are looking at a period of around four months without winning a match. That is really tough, and puts a lot of pressure on your game.

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Someone like Bernard is not back on a surface where he feels comfortable (grass) until June. That means that from March until June you might not have a chance to accumulate points unless you drop back into lower-tiered events.

Schedule wise, it doesn’t make sense for players to have these tournaments back to back. That said, they are too established on the calendar to be moved. So what the Tours have to continue to do is continue to create second-tier tournaments that have enough points and prize money attached to them.

That’s the other pressure point: prize money.

We’ve talked a lot about the top end of the game being heavy for prize money at Grand Slams and Masters 1000 events. If you’re a mid-tier player and have five or six weeks without winning, you’ve got no income. That becomes crucial for these players, who have to sustain the teams that they build and how they manage their finances for the year.

For a lot of players, they have to weigh all this and decide whether they try and make it big in those tournaments, or drop back and play Challenger events where they can make enough points to maintain their ranking, but not enough money to keep them going. They are caught in a bit of a Catch 22 situation.

Going back to a player like Tomic, if he struggles in Miami his ranking could fall out of the Top 50 and then his whole year changes. For him, it could take him 12 months of good play to get himself back in the world’s Top 40. All of that is by virtue of having a poor start to the year on hard courts.

So for many, March is a crucial month filled with stresses and pressure to perform.

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