Saturday, February 12, 2011

Playing To Survive

So I was idly checking the qualifying scores in Marseille - a tournament very much in my good books at the mo on account of how they have given a wildcard to Nicolas Mahut, which obviously fills me with #wildcardformahut joy - and I was a bit struck by something. Some of the names looked very, very familiar.

'Hmmm,' quoth I, 'where have I seen these people before? Verily, I have seen their names recently!'

And then I remembered. I'd seen them in Challenger draws. Not just any Challenger draws. Draws of Challengers which are still happening.

Let's take Laurent Rochette, for example. He had a win in the first round of qualies for Marseille, a three setter. But just a couple of days ago he was in Quimper, where he made it to the third round, beating Amir Weintraub on the way. Essentially, by playing Marseille qualies, he is playing two tournaments in the same week.

Obviously, if he had gone further in Quimper, he wouldn't be playing Marseille qualies. So many decisions on the satellite tour seem to be so split second. It reminds me of that bit in Amir Weintraub's blog where he goes to Brisbane to play qualies, but then realises he has no hope of getting in, so heads straight back to the airport to head to Noumea. 'Entry lists' just don't even seem to be a thing on the satellite circuit. You just rock up somewhere and hope you have the ranking to get it. Even if that place is on the other side of the world.

And there are always more points to be made. Laurent Rochette, if he had won Quimper, would have got 80 points. He made the quarters, which garners him 15 points. But before the week is even done, he's in the hunt for more points in the Marseille qualies. It's brutal and opportunistic and crazy, but ranking points are everything.

Seriously, when do these guys sleep?

In the most recent installment of his blog (which is here, if you haven't read it), AW talks about how he's been so hungry for ranking points that he's played nine weeks on the trot and is picking up injuries like crazy. And yet, as far as I am aware, he has somehow avoided essentially playing two tournaments in a week like Laurent Rochette. People often mock Caroline Wozniacki for how much tennis she plays. The satellite tour makes her look like she spends her weeks lying about in a hammock. Seriously, they must play so much tennis.

And it can't be good for them, physically. It's nuts. But to quote AW: "All I see in front of my eyes are ranking points, points, points. I realise I no longer play to improve, but instead run and check each time which place in the world ranking some more points will take me to."

It's an uncertain life. You never know where you're going to be, week to week. The only stability - for Weintraub, anyway - is Davis Cup. Everything else is up in the air, up for grabs. Weintraub is right. The crazy points chase that dudes like Laurent Rochette is on isn't playing to improve. It's playing to survive.

1 comment:

Peg Duthie said...

I was thinking about the points chase last night after someone on Twitter posted something snarky-sounding (like "Why bother?") about Smyczek having rushed over to Memphis (after reaching San Jose QFs) only to retire during first round quals. But of course he's going to bother -- if his body had held up and he'd made it through, there would've been decent circuit points/income for him to pick up (and, at least he was on the same continent, unlike Rendy Lu, the only Top 50 player I'm aware of who was insane enough to enter both Rotterdam and Memphis)