Tokyo: After returning to the ATP Tour in style with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Viktor Troicki at the Japan Open on Tuesday, Milos Raonic called for a review of how the sport is run.
It was Raonic's first match following a seven-week absence with a left-wrist surgery. The big-serving Canadian has withdrawn from five events this year, and conceded walkovers at two others.
"It's been very frustrating," said Raonic, who started this year at No 3 but has slipped to No 12 in the rankings. "I think I've had more than a dozen different injuries and reasons that have kept me away from tournaments. That hasn't been fun because I haven't been able to focus on tennis, I've been focusing on 'Can I play today or can't I?' rather than, 'What do I need to do with my tennis game?'"
Raonic knows tennis isn't a sport that's easy on the body, and the travel and length of the season are demanding, too.
"I believe out of those of us that finished top five last year, I'm the only guy still trying to play this year, and none of the top five played the US Open," Raonic said. "Maybe it's testament to some kind of reform being needed for the sake of players' careers, and being able to provide a certain caliber of tennis for spectators.
"Scheduling, the length of the year and how spread out — geographically and throughout the year — the tournaments are, especially the top tournaments for the top players, is something that deserves a second look. It's hard to peak four times of the year for Grand Slams, let alone for other tournaments."
The length of the season has long been an issue for players, something the men's and women's tours have taken some steps to address.
Even the biggest stars on the men's tour, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, had injury layoffs before returning to win two major titles each this season.
Raonic thinks a more compact season would help the competition across the board.
"Give the players that really stand out mandatory events, give them a chance to play everything within a seven-month period so they can really focus on themselves health-wise, but also on improving, because you need that time," Raonic said. "We're the only sport, outside of golf maybe, that plays as spread out as we do without any time for rest."
Austrian Dominic Thiem fared less well, with the the second seed being bundled out 4-6, 7-6, 6-4 by American Steve Johnson in the late match on centre court.
A late decision to rush the net failed to save Thiem, who wilted after losing the second-set tiebreak 7-5, and Johnson closed out an upset win with a fizzing body serve after two hours and 18 minutes.
"It feels great to get off to such a great start," said Johnson. "I stuck with it and was able to serve it out. A couple of years ago I made the quarters and personally I'd like to stay here all week."
Richard Gasquet also advanced to the second round, with a 6-4, 7-6(2) defeat of sixth-seeded Sam Querrey.
The Frenchman missed the opening five ATP 1000 Masters events this year, following appendicitis surgery and subsequent back problems. Those back problems also forced him out of two other events.
"I had a lot of injuries this year and now I'm feeling fit, that's why I can compete well," Gasquet said. "I had appendicitis then everything went wrong with my body after that, so it was a tough year for me. The back problems came after that surgery, my recovery was very bad and I started practicing a little bit too quickly, after five weeks — I wasn't ready. I didn't think it would be so tough to recover — of course I'm not 20 anymore, I'm 31."
Gasquet said the players outside the so-called Big Four need to play a lot of tournaments to accumulate rankings points.
"Me and other guys need to play a lot. We go to Australia, then we go on clay courts, we go on hard courts, need to change the type of balls, and you're jet-lagged," he said. "Tennis is very demanding— when I came on tour 15 years ago the 100-ranked player was not so difficult to beat, now they are very good so it's a big difference.
"Tennis is a tough sport. Of course there's a connection between the length of the tour and injuries, but it's a bit tough to say whether we should play more or less."
With inputs from AP and AFP
Updated Date: Oct 03, 2017 18:59 PM