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Tour taking its toll on ladies


Canadian Press




8/11/2003

TORONTO (CP) - The grind of the WTA Tour is starting to take its toll. Just a quick look at the field of the Rogers AT&T Cup is proof enough.



Injured Americans Serena and Venus Williams, Jennifer Capriati and Monica Seles have all pulled out of the $1.325-million US tournament, leaving just five of the top 10 and 11 of the top 20 players in the event.



Belgian Justine Henin-Hardenne, ranked No. 3 in the world, says she feels good right now but knows it's only a matter of time before the long season will start to wear her down.



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Maureen Drake

``In a few weeks, probably I will start to get tired a little bit like every year after the U.S. Open,'' she said Monday. ``But you have to work physically hard at the end of the season in December to be ready for the next year.''



This season, which began in January, will end with the Fed Cup in late November. For some players, that leaves just a month for rest.



``Mentally and physically the season is very long and all these players who are injured right now have played good tennis in the last few months,'' said Henin-Hardenne.



But that doesn't comfort Toronto organizers. Prior to the dropouts, the tournament field had been billed as the best ever. And after Capriati's withdrawal due to a nagging shoulder injury came just hours before Saturday's draw, tournament director Stacey Allaster said it was ``unacceptable'' that a Tier 1 tournament like the Rogers AT&T Cup would only have 11 of the top 20 players in the world.



Henin-Hardenne says she can understand why players who are fighting injury chose to rest prior to U.S. Open, which begins later this month.



``Before a Grand Slam, you don't want to take any risks because the U.S. Open is a very important tournament, especially for the American players.''



But Henin-Hardenne isn't sure if anything can be done to fix the problem of late withdrawals. She understands the frustration of tournament organizers and fans at the weakened field and wonders if a shortened schedule might be the answer.



``It's (injured players dropping out) bad for the tournament for sure,'' she said. ``I think we should think about a shorter season. We have three Grand Slams in two months. It's a lot. But it's hard to make everybody happy.''



Canadian Maureen Drake votes for a shortened season. She says she's feeling burned out and it showed on the court Monday as she lost 6-3, 6-1 to American Jill Craybas.



``It would help to have two-three months at the end of the year, that would be really nice,'' the Toronto native said. ``You see a lot of injuries with the top players coming now. That's just how it goes unfortunately.''



In other matches Monday, Katarina Srebotnik of Slovenia defeated No. 11 seed Silvia Farina Elia of Italy 6-4, 7-5 while No. 10 seed Vera Zvonareva of Russia eliminated Barbara Schett of Austria, 6-1, 7-6 (3).



Beier Ko of Montreal had her match with American Nicole Pratt postponed due to torrential rain that delayed play during the afternoon session. The match, which Pratt leads 4-1 in the first set, will be finished on Tuesday.



In the late matches, No. 9 seed Elena Dementieva of Russia defeated Alicia Molik of Australia, 6-3, 7-6 (7) and France's Emilie Loit beat Melanie Marois of Ste-Foy, Que., 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-2.



There's been suggestions that the women's tour should look at moving to a system similar to the men's ATP tour, where players don't receive rankings points if they drop out of a Masters Series event so the fields for those tournaments tend to boast the top players in the world. In Montreal last week, 19 of the top 20 players showed up for the Tennis Masters Canada.



``The men are stronger, they're playing more than us and I think that physically it's a little bit easier for them to play a lot of tournaments,'' said Henin-Hardenne. ``I think the men, maybe they're a little bit injured sometimes they play. On the women's tour, everyone's playing 100 per cent ... If they're injured, they prefer to withdraw.''



Venus Williams has made it clear she's not happy with the current schedule.



Following her loss to Serena in the Australian Open earlier this year, Venus launched an attack on the ``unreasonable'' demands of the tour, saying that it's impossible to expect people to play 11 months of the year. She said that even if you aren't playing a lot of tournaments it's still taking a toll because you need to be at home training.



``If you're not training, you're going to lose when you do go out to play,'' Williams said at the time.



Jelena Dokic of Serbia and Montenegro has one of the busiest schedules of any player on the tour. So far this year she's played in 20 tournaments and has managed to stay healthy. She says she works on more than just her tennis game in order to survive the gruelling season.



``Tennis is one part of it,'' she said Dokic. ``But you have to work on fitness also, not just when you have the time off but when you're tour as well. I think everybody's improving so you have to try and keep up.



``I think just shortening the season would make it easier. I think players would recover easier. Eleven months of the year you travel. You try to cut down on tournaments but you still have to play a lot.''
 
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