"I always thought it's best to give the players a schedule that enables the players to be at their best," eight-time Grand Slam champion Agassi said in a teleconference ahead of next week's Venetian Macau Showdown with Pete Sampras.
"The off-season is healthy for players and the fans—it builds up anticipation for the fans.
"I think the tour should tighten up the schedule, so the top players can play more often in a shorter time. I would like to see everyone come to the table and work out a schedule that suits everyone."
-- Andre Agassi on everyone’s favourite punch bag right now, the schedule
Ok, but isn’t that exactly what the mandatory designation of the Masters-1000s was meant to be about?
Show up at these nine events (and the Slams) -- a total of 17 tennis weeks -- and spend the other, very generous 30 odd weeks, basking in the Seychelles; or, you know, playing some tennis. Selectively.
There is an argument to be made, I suppose, in favour of spacing out that very intensive stint of tennis that begins with Indian Wells and ends at Madrid.
If I had anything to do with it, they’d be forced to supplant that post-Wimby no-man’s-land of the tennis calendar in July, with a half-decent grass court Masters event. Though I’m not aware that anyone, as of yet, has sought my involvement, so you’ll be forced to continue to make do with that quasi-clay-court season they currently have. Nikolay’s most prolific section of the year.
Marat’s brought the issue up before - 5 years ago, to be precise.
"In 2004, we had this discussion at the Olympic Games with [Andy] Roddick," said the 29-year-old Russian who plans to retire next month after a decade and a half in the sport.
"I was saying that the season is too long - we should make it shorter, and the guys, they jumped on me, like I was the one who was wrong," he said.
"So look at all of them - everybody is falling apart," Safin said. "Everybody is getting injured left and right, and everybody is complaining the season is long. It takes six years to realise that something is wrong?
"It's a beautiful sport, so why kill the players and make the calendar basically playing 12 months of the year?"
This is the first I’ve ever heard of any kind of ‘fallout’, if it can be described as such, between Marat and A-Rod, though am I the only one mildly amused (and somewhat relieved) by his reference to the game as a “beautiful sport”?
This from a self-professed hater of all things sport. Not with a racquet, not on TV, not even a ten-minute kick around in your neighbourhood. Heartened and relieved to discover that that wounded anti-hero act is nothing more than a front, where tennis is concerned. Marat doesn’t hate tennis any more than I do. It’s the competition and the grind, he finds so problematic.
“Everybody is falling apart” this week however, with Juan-Marteen, Gael, Stanislas and of course A-Rod, all retiring hurt in their opening two matches.
Berdych looked set to do the same opposite Marat, pulling up after dropping the first set, for some extended treatment to his thighs and knees.
His subsequent quick recovery (on the back of which he reeled off the remaining two sets), left Marat deeply mystified and understandably unimpressed; and questioning of Tomas’s manhood:
"The fact [is] that I've known the guy for so many years. I've been nice conditions with the guy, and then look at this ? to hold [a] show? Just come on. Just grow up a little bit. 26 years old - Just deal with that."
And there was more from an indignant Safin.
"If you're losing, be a man and lose as a man. Don't pretend that you are injured and then you start running around and start to hit winners, and then pull [your] hands up in the air after winning the match?
"I mean, what kind of sportsman are you? What kind of man are you?
"Of course [Berdych] will say, No, I [have] been injured but then I felt a little bit better. He will find 10,000 excuses [but] it is not enough."
"[Either] you're playing or you're not playing. If you're not going to play, so don't play. If you're playing, then just shut the f**k up and play, basically."
"And you're a man, so just lose like a man."
And so ends Marat’s penultimate stop of his farewell tour; perhaps a little ironic, that this last few weeks saw a lift in his form.
My mind's still in a quandary as to whether it’s Murray, Daveed or Marat that hits that shot the best. I don’t think Murray’s action’s half as pretty as those other two. And I think Marat might just have the edge over Daveed in pace.
So many memories…
So here’s how it is.
Big Rob edged out a truly lacklustre Jo-Willy in straights today, leaving both him and Rafa set up with immensely winnable matches.
Rafa’s looked mighty fine throughout this week, but particularly in that three set blast-off he and Blake gave us yesterday (Is it me, or has the James Blake-Kelly Jones match up seen the greatest turnaround in form in recent coaching history?)
I may get my wish of a Rafa-Soderling semi final after all.
(PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
And it concerns me not, that Rafa thinks of Big Rob with little warmth, and about as much affection as he might reserve for the Antichrist. If anything, it will add some very welcome edge; and if not, might we be seeing a Murray-Delpo-like burying of the hatchet, culminating in a worthy man-hug at the net?
Not to mention that the stakes have just been upped again, with Big Rob supplanting himself ahead of Tsonga and claiming position number eight in the Race to London?
This match needs to be played. I will not be denied.