Almost 300,000 fans packed out the MCG last weekend for the opening round of the AFL season – and it had me thinking: How does footy draw such an audience in week one and maintain similar energy levels throughout the season?
Ultimately, the AFL – like many team codes – simply has a calendar which flows.
From round one to Grand Final day, there are so few lulls in momentum – and all 30-weeks of the season feel important.
Comparatively, the tennis tour has countless momentum lapses, while still expecting players to compete for eleven months of the year.
Obviously, the nature of professional tennis – built around four major events – makes a constant build up impossible.
But when the climax of the tennis season is directly followed by less significant events – often on the same surface – it is just illogical.
In saying that, would I want to see a Grand Slam played every week? Obviously not.
But could the scheduling of the tour be better? I believe so.
For me, the key issues with the current calendar are the following:
1. Tennis has the shortest off-season in sport and no rest weeks during the season.
As it stands, the men’s calendar (including team competitions) has events scheduled every week from December 29 until November 26 – leaving just a one month off season for players.
The WTA’s provisional schedule through to the US Open also holds an event every week from December 29 until September 10.
So, while players can opt to rest during certain weeks, the tour keeps moving with or without them, for all but one month of the year.
The fast-paced calendar is only worsened by the global nature of the sport – with players travelling across continents on a weekly basis.
Take Aussie Alex De Minaur for example, who has gone from Australia to the Netherlands to France to Mexico and now to America’s West and East coast – just in the past two months.
Not only do we need a longer break at the season’s conclusion, but intervals throughout the year for players to rest and recover – and not feel they are falling behind.
2. There are too many purposeless events.
There are many examples of tournaments on the current calendar which are just there – they don’t lead into a Grand Slam and are often on a completely different surface or continent from the next major.
For example – following the Australian Open, some male players headed to ATP 250 events in Argentina, which nicely built into a 500-level event on clay in Rio.
So, one can assume, we’re scaling towards a Masters 1000 and Grand Slam on clay, in South America.
No – obviously these tournaments lead into consecutive hard-court Masters 1000 events in North America.
Ah, but then these must at least build towards a hard-court Grand Slam in the US.
Well actually, no – the next major is back on clay, in Europe.
It makes little sense.
In my opinion, for the tour to flow, all individual ATP and WTA events need to scale towards a Grand Slam.
And to do that, we need distinct segments of the calendar built around the four majors.
3. ATP and WTA unity
A less crucial but still worthy issue – in my opinion – is those events which just feature men or women.
All four Grand Slams host both genders – as do five of the nine 1000-point tournaments – but for the benefit of fans, players and the sport, the tours should look to showcase both men and women in as many events as possible.
My proposed new schedule:
Segment 1: Hard-court – Building to the Australian Open
This part of the calendar is the most difficult to schedule.
The Australian Open operates best during the school holidays and the month of January – seen in the record-breaking Grand Slam attendance for the 2023 event.
But in order to do that, it must come very early in the year.
A possible fix could be to begin the season one month earlier – at the start of December.
Have a series of events across Asia before Christmas – multiple 250’s and 500’s, possibly a combined ATP/WTA 1000 – and then come to Australia.
There could be another ATP and WTA 500 in Adelaide/Hobart over the New Year (or a strong team-based event), before potentially a new Masters 1000 and WTA 1000 in Sydney (if not in Asia) ahead of the Australian Open.
Players are travelling thousands of kilometres to be in Australia and deserve a second major event to earn points and prepare for the first Grand Slam of the year.
Segment 2: Clay – Building towards Roland Garros
After a minimum three-week break following the Asian/Australian summer, the entire tour should realistically be on clay.
Start in late February with men’s and women’s 250’s and 500’s. The current South American clay swing across Argentina and Brazil could still feature before the entire tour heads to Europe.
The 2023 schedule from Monte-Carlo through to Roland Garros may just be the most logical part of the current calendar – and needs little changing.
However, having just two ATP and WTA 1000 events on clay before the French Open would allow for a fortnight break ahead of the grass court season.
Segment 3: Grass – Building towards Wimbledon
The current grass season is simply too short. For a surface that is relatively easy on players from a physical standpoint and enjoyable for fan viewing, it needs a second big event.
Commence in late May with 250’s and 500’s in Europe, before the addition of an ATP/WTA 1000 on grass, ahead of Wimbledon in late June/early July.
Segment 4: Hard – Building towards US Open
The current fortnight following Wimbledon sees events played on all three surfaces across America and Europe.
Instead, there needs to be another fortnight break before the whole tour heads to America to begin with multiple 250’s at the start of August.
This period could host tournaments across all of North America, possibly moving Acapulco to be played alongside Washington as 500’s.
Then have two ATP/WTA 1000 events on hard courts before the US Open.
Under the current calendar, the four North American 1000-events are excessive and as I said above, the scheduling of the Sunshine double is illogical.
So, either make Indian Wells and Miami the lead-in to the US Open or keep the current Canada/Cincinnati double – there really isn’t a need for both.
The final major of the year should remain in September but act as the conclusion to the season for most players.
The Next Gen Finals, ATP Finals and WTA Finals could then be held in late September, giving all players a two-month off season in October and November.
Proposed full schedule: (Approximate dates)
Segment 1 – Hard
December 1 - December 21: Asia
December 29 – January 31: Australia
February 1 – February 21: Break
Segment 2 – Clay
February 22 – March 13: South America
March 14 – May 14: Europe
May 15 – May 31: Break
Segment 3 – Grass
June 1 – July 15: Europe
July 16 – July 31: Break
Segment 4 – Hard
August 1 – September 15: North America
September 16 – September 30: Year-End Finals (Europe or North America)
October 1 – November 30: Off-season
Proposed ‘big’ event schedule:
4 Grand Slams: (unchanged)
2x hard, 1x clay, 1x grass
6 ATP Masters 1000/WTA 1000:
3x hard (one before the Australian Open, two before the US Open)
2x clay (both before Roland Garros)
1x grass (before Wimbledon)
*In this schedule, team events such as the Davis Cup and Laver Cup could be played in the final week of interval breaks – thus occurring gradually throughout the season.
Ultimately, a more structured calendar benefits everyone involved in the sport.
Players can focus their mind and energy on a set period of two months or so, and will always be preparing in similar conditions to upcoming major events.
In addition to a longer offseason, they will be able to journey home or to a base in between tour segments – seeing family/friends and physically recovering – boosting both mental and physical health.
Coaches and player teams would also benefit from scheduled breaks – never having to spend more than 8-10 weeks on the road in one stint.
Given the burnout associated with mentoring players – particularly professional athletes – intervals provide much needed relief for anyone on the tennis tour (including umpires and all full-time tennis related staff).
Fans and the sport in general could benefit massively from a more cohesive calendar. As it stands, unless you are a tennis diehard, it is very difficult to keep up with every week of the tour.
Having four segments – each with a constant build-up to a Grand Slam – allows fans to jump in whenever they choose.
The hardcore fans can watch every single week from 250-level events all the way up, while more casual followers can wait for ATP and WTA 1000 tournaments, or just watch the majors.
I think most would agree that the professional tennis calendar needs work – to benefit everyone that lives and loves this great sport.