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Top tennis stars will strike over tournament overload: Andy Murray

ANDY Murray has revealed that the world’s top players are prepared to strike to help change the tennis calendar.

Murray, who spent one of his rare days off at the Burberry fashion show in London, is one of several players to voice concern at the conflict of interest between the ATP World Tour, responsible for the operations of the men’s events during the year, and the International Tennis Federation, which oversees the grand slam tournaments and the Davis Cup.

It has been decided that the players, led by Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, who sit on the ATP Players’ Council, will stage a meeting at the forthcoming Masters tournament in Shanghai next month, one of the two compulsory events still to be played this year.

“We’ll sit down, talk about it with the Association of Tennis Professionals and International Tennis Federation, see if they will come to a compromise and, if not, we’ll go from there,” Murray said.

It is hoped that the meeting will give all the players on the men’s tour the opportunity to offer their opinions, and agree a list of requests that are applicable whether they are ranked in the top 10, top 50, or top 100.

“We just want things to change, really small things. Two or three weeks during the year, a few less tournaments each year, which I don’t think is unreasonable,” Murray said.

“We need to have some say in what goes on in our sport. At the moment we don’t.”

The overcrowding of the tennis schedule is a debate that rears its head on an almost annual basis at this stage in the season, when players have completed nine months of preparing for and competing in the four grand slams, but are left with three more months of competition before the off-season begins in December.

Two years ago the calendar for the women’s tour, run by the Women’s Tennis Association, was reformed under ‘the Roadmap’ slogan, reducing the number of compulsory events from 13 to 10, and bringing the end of the season forward to October, allowing the female players a period of nine weeks during the off-season.

By contrast, the men’s tour requires players to compete in a minimum of 12 events alongside the four majors, and finishes an entire month later, culminating with the ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena at the end of November, and followed by the Davis Cup final in early December.

The ATP’s chief executive, Adam Helfant, who leaves the governing body at the end of this year, has since squeezed two weeks out of the schedule for 2012, by running the Paris Masters and the O2 season finale back-to-back, but the number of tournaments, and the number of mandatory events, remains the same.

“The players should and do have a major say in how the game is run,” an ATP statement said. “We remain committed to working with the players and other governing bodies to continue to address their issues.”

The ITF, on the other hand, has reacted angrily to Nadal’s complaints about the proximity of the Davis Cup to the grand slams. “Nadal has a right to feel tired,” ITF president Francesco Ricci Bitti said. “But that’s not the fault of the Davis Cup, which he has played only three times in four years. The dates of Davis Cup play were changed against the wishes of the ITF and its president.”

The threat of a strike will resurrect memories of the incidents of 1973, when 79 players boycotted Wimbledon after a conflict broke out between the ITF and the then newly-formed ATP after the ITF had suspended Niki Pilic for allegedly refusing to compete in a Davis Cup tie.