In tennis, one man's pain is another man's gain. That is why a number of ATP veterans are going to be putting a little more oomph into their serves and forehands in the coming weeks as the complex problem facing Andy Murray is worked out -- potentially to the benefit of one of those competitors.
Andy Murray is presently ranked No. 3 in the world, and he's already qualified for the ATP World Tour Finals -- the lucrative eight-man, round-robin, year-end championships held at London's 02 Arena. In fact, one of the main reasons the event is still being held there is Murray's status as a British star and hero.
But just last week, Murray (with help from his brother, Jamie) did something that, as little as 12 months ago, was utterly unexpected. He led the British Davis Cup team into its first final since a surprise contender lost in 1978.
Should the Brits defeat host Belgium in the final days of November this year, they'll have won the Cup for the first time since Fred Perry led a squad to victory in 1936 -- and they'll have done it with the first man to win Wimbledon since Perry accomplished the same three-quarters of a century ago. That makes this a potentially historic moment for British tennis.
And therein lies the problem.
The Davis Cup is scheduled to begin five days after the World Tour Finals end. And while participation in the World Tour Finals is mandatory, Murray said immediately after the British advanced to the final that he would consider skipping the ATP year-end shootout in order to maximize his preparation for the Davis Cup final. The World Tour Finals are played on indoor hard; the Belgians are expected to host the Davis Cup final on clay.
Is it even imaginable that British tennis fans, known for generation after generation as the most long-suffering on earth, can have too much of a good thing?
The ATP, though, doesn't exactly see this as an embarrassment of riches for the British -- at least not the ones who flock to the 02 Area annually. In a terse announcement, ATP president Chris Kermode declared: "The ATP World Tour Finals is a mandatory event. All players who qualify, unless injured, are required to compete in the event."
This problem is unlikely to go away, because it's already almost certain that the Belgians will choose to host the final on clay, the surface on which Murray has had the least success.
The chance that some intelligent compromise can be found may be impacted by any number of factors, including the contract the ATP has with the 02 Arena and ticket-sellers, as well as the player organization's relationship with the International Tennis Federation (the promoters of the Davis Cup). The two groups are competitive as well as cooperative.
Granted, the ATP will be under pressure to produce Murray for the World Tour Finals. The credibility of the outfit's flagship event will suffer if Murray chooses to skip the event. But what is the ATP going to do? Come down hard on Murray for choosing Davis Cup, with all of its patriotic, non-mercenary associations over the cash-rich ATP season-ending extravaganza?
That would be a disastrous move by the ATP, one that would show the organization is not merely imperious, but also tone-deaf to the dulcet tones of history.
Murray should have to take the same hit any player takes for missing a mandatory event, in the way of lost prize money and rankings points. But that ought to be the extent of his punishment.
Of course, the easiest solution is for Murray to come up with a mild hamstring strain a few days before the start of the World Tour Finals. The assumption is that his injury is healed sufficiently for him to then do his patriotic Davis Cup duty a few weeks later. It has been known to happen.
If you took Murray out of the equation right now, Richard Gasquet would move into the eighth and final place in the race standings, but Kevin Anderson, John Isner and Marin Cilic would trail Gasquet by only 150 to 420 rankings points -- with some major hard-court events coming up. And all of them already are on the trail of perennial 02 fixture David Ferrer, who's clinging to No. 8.
In other words, British Davis Cup fans are not the only ones hoping that Murray decides to take a pass on the World Tour Finals.