Roddick's rallying cry: Tennis players of the world unite

MELBOURNE, Australia: Andy Roddick looks at a tennis calendar that never seems to end and the list of injuries that keeps growing.  

He suspects it's time to take action. 

He wants players to form a union and send a message to those who run the sport. 

"It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out why people are getting hurt,'' Roddick said. 

Consider the Australian Open, the season's first major, which begins Monday.  

It is fast resembling an orthopedist's waiting room. 

Defending champion Marat Safin and French Open winner Rafael Nadal withdrew with lingering knee and ankle injuries. 

Four-time champion Andre Agassi is out with an ailing ankle.  

Thomas Johansson, the 2002 winner, has assorted injuries. 

Thomas Enqvist, a 1999 finalist, withdrew from the qualifying tournament because of an aching back. 

Top-ranked Roger Federer will be there but with his own medical concerns - an ankle injury that limited his play at the end of last season. 

Roddick spoke after a 6-2, 6-2 win Wednesday over French teenager Gael Monfils in an exhibition tournament at Kooyong.  

It was the American's first event since early November when a back problem forced him to join Safin and Nadal as absentees from the season-ending Masters Cup. 

"It's a different game now with the physicality of it,'' he said. 

"The players are bigger and stronger. ... It's just tougher on the body. I believe strongly it's in the best interests of the game to try and come up with a way to give us some sort of an offseason to recover.'' 

Roddick understands that complaints about little time off between seasons have been around for a while. 

He also conceded it was a "coincidence'' that three of the most prominent players were missing from one Grand Slam tournament. 

"But I just think something needs to be done that's in the best interest of players and their health,'' he said. 

"Someone is going to have to give. 

"The tournament directors, the ITF, the Davis Cup, the Grand Slams - they're all different entities and you'd think they would want to work together for the greater good, but they each want their little slice of the pie and they're not willing to give that up.'' 

The 2003 U.S. Open champion said the crowded calendar came down to business rather than "common logic.''  

He also noted that forming a union, similar to those of the major team sports in North America, was difficult because of the disparate and individual nature of tennis. 

"Getting 100 players from this many countries, with language barriers and get them all on the same page at one time ... it's tough,'' he said. 

"For every person that says we're not healthy, there's another guy that says, 'Hey, I need those two extra weeks for the prize money.''' 

Federer, who was 81-4 last season and won 11 titles, does not blame the heavy workload for the seemingly high number of injuries. 

He says players could plan their schedule to avoid wear and tear. But he agrees with Roddick that players need representation at highest levels of the ATP. 

Iggy Jovanovic, an ATP-appointed player representative, said the men's sanctioning body was revamping its structure. 

It is aiming to get an active player or players' rep on the board. 

The ATP will hold a mandatory players' meeting on Saturday in Melbourne, where some plans will be unveiled. 

New board chairman Etienne de Villiers reviewed the ATP structure last year and found not enough attention paid to players. 

"He's looking at a structure that throws the needle back a bit toward the players,'' Jovanovic said, "and wants to get somebody in their who can meet with the players, be with the players, and bring their ideas and concerns directly to the board.'' - AP 

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