The men's tennis tour is just beginning its 12 toughest weeks of the year.
Starting last week in Monte Carlo and going through until the end of Wimbledon on July 5, there are a dozen weeks with very few to be taken off by the current Fab Four of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.
Best positioned in terms of their weeks off heading into to the French Open are Federer and Murray. They will play one week on and one week off until Roland Garros - last week in Monte Carlo, this week off, next week in Rome, a week off, Madrid, a week off and then the big one on the avenue de la Porte d'Auteuil beginning on Sunday, May 25.
Nadal and Djokovic are basically being forced into playing three weeks in a row by obligations in their homelands. After winning in Monte Carlo last week Nadal would probably have preferred to have this week off - like Federer, Djokovic and Murray - but he feels obliged to play in Barcelona. Because next week's Italian Open is an 'automatic-entry' Masters Series event, the world No. 1 then has little choice but to play three weeks in a row.
That could be 15 matches in 19 days if he reaches the final in both Barcelona and Rome, which is certainly an overload at a time when it would be preferable to building up more slowly to Roland Garros.
At least he will have a week off before Madrid and then another before the French Open.
A footnote here, Nadal has expressed some reservations about Madrid, a brand new extravaganza Masters Series event at a site featuring three retractable roof stadiums, because it is played at altitude. He fears that, with the ball flying a bit more than at sea level, it may not be the ideal preparation for Roland Garros.
How ironic that this fabulous new event is viewed with some ambivalence by far-and-away it's No. 1 star attraction.
Djokovic will face a Nadal-like situation when he plays three weeks in a row - Rome, Belgrade and then Madrid. In his case, the obligation to Belgrade is even stronger than Nadal to Barcelona because his family owns the brand new ATP 250 event in the Serbian capital.
Men's tennis is flourishing at the moment and it is to be hoped all top-four players arrive at the French Open in good physical shape. If Nadal or Djokovic is diminished in some way, it may be possible to trace that back to playing for three consecutive weeks on the clay with its long, gruelling rallies.
Following the French Open, there is little rest for the game's leading quartet. The week after Nadal wins his fifth Coupe des Mousquetaires in Paris - almost a foregone conclusion barring injury - he and Murray will switch to grass and play the Wimbledon warm-up event at Queen's Club in London. Federer and Djokovic will head to Halle, Germany, to play the Gerry Weber Open, the only grass-court event other than Wimbledon to have a rain cover over its main stadium court.
All four players will then take a week off before The Championships begin on June 22.
It will wind up being a huge amount of pressure tennis in a 12-week period on two different surfaces. As fit as the top guys try to be these days, it is likely one or more of the Fab Four will pay the price at either Roland Garros or Wimbledon.
Note: The ATP's statistics savant, Greg Sharko, has done an interesting analysis of the Fab-Four and how their rankings could shake down over the next few months. Here's the link: http://www.atpworldtour.com/tennis/1/en/news/newsarticle_3289.asp
PRAISE: With her runner-up performance at the WTA Tour event in Ponte Vedra, Fla., two weeks ago and a second-round finish last week in Charleston, S.C., Aleksandra Wozniak of Blainville, Que., has moved her ranking up to a career-high No. 26.
That puts her ahead of Patricia Hy-Boulais, No. 28 in 1993, on the list of top Canadians on the WTA Tour since it introduced computer rankings in 1975.
Carling Bassett-Seguso (No. 8 in 1985) and Helen Kelesi (No. 13 in 1990) remain in the No. 1 and No. 2 spots.
Kudos to Sharon Fichman of Toronto, 18, for winning the $25,000 (U.S.), clay-court Challenger event in Osprey, Fla., last week. Fichman's ranking is up to No. 238 after a 6-4, 6-1 victory over former top-100 player Yuliana Fedak of Ukraine in the final.
POTSHOT: The new mixed Madrid event, scheduled for May 10-17, is considering changing its classic red (ochre) clay courts to blue and will have a demonstration blue clay court on the site this year for trial by players. The blue is said to fit in better with the colours of Mutua Madrilena, the tournament's main sponsor.
This is a hair-brain plan, another example of tennis shooting itself in the foot. Two weeks before the sport's grandest clay-court showcase, the French Open, does it make sense for people all over the world to be watching an event on blue clay. Would the final big lead-in event to The Masters golf tournament ever be played on a course with blue fairways and greens?
Stupido - as they say in Spanish.