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Men's players complain of too little time off

January 8, 2003

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- Some of the players at the Sydney International are still nursing injuries -- and complaining about the lack of time off between seasons on the men's tennis circuit.

``We have the shortest vacations in any sport,'' Russian Marat Safin said.

The season-opening Grand Slam tournament -- the Australian Open -- starts next week in Melbourne.

Safin, the Australian Open runner-up last year, said he didn't have enough time off after helping Russia win the Davis Cup last month.

Rubbing the tender spots on his back Tuesday after a 6-1, 6-4 win over Belgian Olivier Rochus at the Sydney International, the world's No. 3 player said he'd be picking and choosing his tournaments this year to get more rest.

``Every other sport, they have enough time to recover, to have vacations with family and then just to prepare for the next season,'' the 22-year-old Safin said. ``We have nothing. Last year, I had two weeks of vacation. There is no time to do something -- if you want to fly somewhere to have vacations, you can spend like 10 days somewhere.''

Safin was 56-26 in singles in 2002, collecting more than $1.7 million in earnings to push his career totals above $8.4 million. He had a later end to the year than most players, losing all three group matches in the eight-man draw at the season-ending Tennis Masters Cup at Shanghai in November, and then helping Russia to a 3-2 win over France in the Davis Cup final in Paris.

Safin spent a month in Moscow after that, including two weeks of practice.

No. 4 Roger Federer had groin and leg problems in an upset loss to Argentine qualifier Franco Squillari on Tuesday. Federer, a 21-year-old Swiss, won the Sydney International last season.

``I definitely think the season is still too long, especially if you make the Masters or the Davis Cup,'' Federer said. ``Maybe the Australian Open is a little too early in the season -- not enough leading up tournaments to such a big event.''

Andy Roddick, 20, had seven weeks off but agreed tennis players should get more of an offseason.

``Compared with every other sport, it's pretty minuscule,'' said Roddick, who finished last year at No. 10.

``I feel good, I had a two-month break, and I took two or three weeks to really put down the rackets and get healthy before I started training hard again,'' he said. ``But I can understand the complaint.''

Graeme Agars, the ATP's vice president for media relations, said Safin's case was unusual because he had heavy commitments at the end of the season when more than 99 percent of players were resting.

``The ATP season finished for maindraw players on November 9 and the vast majority of players had almost a seven-week offseason,'' Agars said. ``The only exceptions were those that made the Masters Cup and the handful of players involved in the Davis Cup final.

``Seven weeks is a pretty substantial break for any sport.''

Agars said the break would be even longer this year, because the last maindraw event, the Tennis Masters Series event in Paris, finishes Nov. 2.

Former women's No. 1 Martina Navratilova, who won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, refused to travel to the Australian Open for the last five years of her singles career.

Now, at 46 and a doubles specialist, she's calling for organizers to push the Australian Open back a month, to February, to avoid the extreme heat and give players more time to recover.

The extreme heat policy came into play during the last Australian Open as temperatures neared 104 degrees.

Australia had one of its hottest and driest years on record last year and the forecast was for more of the same in the short term. The temperature reached 104 in Melbourne on Tuesday.
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