Sun, Oct 15, 2006 - Page 24 News List

Sharapova supports calls for shorter tennis season

AFP , PARIS

Russian pin-up Maria Sharapova added her voice to calls for the women's tennis season to be slashed after figures showed an alarming rise in the number of top players hobbling out of events.

The US Open champion, and former world No. 1, fell victim to the curse herself on Friday when a hip injury forced her to withdraw from the Kremlin Cup quarter-finals in Moscow.

"I feel strongly that the tennis season needs to be made shorter, with more breaks for players to rest in order to be in peak condition when we do play," said Sharapova, the world No. 3. "I know the Tour is taking this issue seriously and I'm looking forward to the changes that will lead to a healthier schedule."

The WTA Tour on Friday released figures showing that top player withdrawals have reached an all-time high this season.

The report showed that top 10 player withdrawals from the Tour's high-profile tournaments have more than doubled [from 13 to 31] from last year to this.

In the last five years, the figure has increased by 72 percent.

WTA Tour chief executive Larry Scott has organized a committee to develop specific rule changes for next year that he hopes will improve the situation.

Scott also confirmed the need for the Tour's `Roadmap 2010' plan to be accelerated by one year, to 2009.

This plan is aimed at creating a more suitable schedule, a longer off-season and more breaks for top players.

"Fans and tournaments deserve to see the top players and to be able to count on them to show up, but injuries and withdrawals from a season that overtaxes our players is hurting the fan experience," Scott said. "Women's professional tennis needs to enact bold reforms in the name of player health and the continued global growth of the game.

"This latest data is a clear signal that our season is simply too long and too gruelling for even the finest women athletes in the world." he added.

Scott's calls were supported by US tennis legend Billie Jean King.

"For women's tennis to be successful, top players need to be consistently playing each other in the Tour's top events," said King. "We've got a challenge on our hands today with the increasing number of top player injuries and withdrawals."

The Roadmap would see a shortened season, more breaks for top players after Grand Slams, a reduction in the number of tournaments top players must play in and the creation of four combined mandatory events.

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