For a week with nothing but 250-point tournaments, the ATP Tour has provided an eyebrow-raising series of occurrences. These aren’t loud and massive thunderbolts, no, but they do arouse a certain degree of curiosity and raise some interesting questions about the road ahead.
Stan Wawrinka. Karen Khachanov. David Goffin. Nikoloz Basilashvili. Before Thursday of this week arrived, those three names had already exited tournaments in either Bulgaria or France. I won’t say that their losses were horrible or inexcusable. Playing a tournament less than two weeks after the end of the Australian Open is not something elite players generally do. None of these four players made deep runs in Melbourne, which is precisely why playing these tournaments was a realistic, if unusual, choice for them to make. That they lost early shouldn’t be treated as any sort of crisis.
However, one has to at least mention the following point: What if their next tournaments involve an early loss? The process of trying to play into form and develop confidence could backfire. Waiting for the big tournaments (maybe playing one warm-up event before them, but not two or three) might limit their match play, but it would keep them focused on the bigger prizes in tennis and cultivate a heightened sense of urgency when they take the court. Playing in a sleepy 250 might represent an instance in which these players are trying to force or will themselves into an improved competitive state. That might be a case of pushing too hard, of overdoing a process which requires patience.
Wawrinka, Khachanov, Goffin, and Basilashvili decided to play this week. They all have to live with the realization that as they try to find form and confidence, they might not find it right away. If they can be patient with themselves, especially in moments of defeat, their 2019 seasons have a much better chance of becoming professionally satisfying. If they aren’t patient, then the crisis which currently doesn’t exist could soon emerge.
It is a very fine line indeed.