Surviving the Long, Bleak Offseason

By James Steel

As we see off the end of the ATP Finals and move into the final few days with the Davis Cup in Malaga, attentions turn to the off season, a time of year when there’s no main tour ATP and WTA tournaments to speak off: just the last Challengers, WTA 125 and ITF Futures events. For the majority of us, this will be a pleasant break (and for others a living nightmare), but by week two or three we will all experience a tennis itch and won’t know what to do. To counter the offseason blues, here are some tips to survive tennis withdrawal until 2023.

See you soon, Novak. Screenshot: Tennis TV

1. Find another sport

They say that variety is the spice of life, and sport is no different with this statement. There is a very big, very widely watched tournament taking place in a very hot country over the next three to four weeks (*cough cough*, FIFA World Cup, *cough cough*). I’m invested in the World Cup and think most can find a team to support during the tournament. 

If football (soccer for our American friends) doesn’t take your fancy, there are plenty of other sports raging during the tennis offseason, including golf, cricket, rugby, basketball, American football, boxing, and MMA, among many others. 

2. Watch lower level tournaments

This is not only a good way to see live tennis, but a great way to educate yourself on the lower rung tours and spot potential future stars. There are a couple ATP Challenger events in late November, two WTA 125 events in December and tons of ITF futures events throughout November and December for you to enjoy. The majority of tournaments are streamed live on the ATP or ITF website, so you can huddle around your laptop screen watching two unsung heroes of professional tennis battle it out.

3. Find tennis documentaries and movies

When you love a sport as much as we all do, we try to learn as much as possible about it. A good hunt around streaming platforms and digital libraries can offer a new perspective on tennis on and off the court.

Netflix has two tennis documentaries: the first on Naomi Osaka, following her meteoric rise and struggles negotiating newfound fame, and the second an extraordinary documentary about Marty Fish and his battles with mental health. Other popular choices include the excellent Andy Murray: Resurfacing documentary and the now slightly dated Venus and Serena documentaries on Amazon Prime. Strokes of Genius offers a cinematic look at the 2008 Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and will set the heart racing whether you know the final result or not.

There is also a decent selection of tennis movies, notable examples being the newly released King Richard, Battle of the Sexes and Borg vs. McEnroe. And tennis fans new and old will know of the (slightly infamous) romcom Wimbledon, starring Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst. 

4. Follow the exhibitions

Even during the offseason, tennis is being played, just not in official competition. December features a range of exhibition events (mainly in the Middle East), often cash grabs and warm up matches for players looking to hit the Australian swing fast in January. 

The Diriyah Tennis Cup in Saudi Arabia, from December 8th to 10th, features Medvedev, Rublev, Zverev, Fritz, Norrie, Thiem and Wawrinka, and will see four rounds of action over three days. Six days later you have the Mubadala World Tennis Championships in Dubai which runs from the 16th to the 18th and includes a field featuring Jabeur, Raducanu, Alcaraz, Tsitsipas, Rublev, Ruud, Norrie, and Tiafoe. 

A day later you have the World Tennis League running from the 19th to the 24th (also in Dubai). The tournament includes nearly all the same players as the previous two plus loads of prominent players such as Swiatek, Garcia, Sabalenka, Badosa and Rybakina. To round off my known exhibitions you have the ‘Battle of the Brits’ in Aberdeen between the 22nd and 23rd. This event pits Team Scotland against Team England and includes Andy (ever heard of him?) and Jamie Murray, Daniel Evans, Jack Draper, Joe Sailsbury and Neal Skupski.

Most of the above events will have a broadcaster, with Eurosport picking up the Diriyah and Mubadala tournaments, so despite the lack of ranking points, you can make an occasion of watching an exhibition.

5. PLAY TENNIS!!

What’s better than watching the sport you love? Playing the sport you love! Find a friend or online partner to hit a local court with. Try to hit a backhand better than Djokovic or serve harder than Isner. (Please don’t actually do this; it will most likely end in injury.) Brave the cold and play outdoors or find some indoor courts if snow is piling up and you want to pretend you’re in the Paris Masters. 

6. (if you’re really struggling) Binge tennis YouTube videos

TennisTV has a range of excellent montage tennis videos going back years. You could relive every Masters 1000 winning point since the 90’s, shots that are out of this universe and funny tennis moments. A lot has happened this year — catch up with highlights from your favorite tournaments, from Ash Barty retiring in a blaze of glory to Carlos Alcaraz’s exhausting run to the U.S. Open title. Unofficial channels are making all kinds of videos, from funny compilations to 20-minute highlights of an obscure match from 2014. If you really need to see main tour players hitting fluffy yellow balls over the next couple months, and the above tips aren’t getting it done, this is your answer. 

Hope this helps provide a road map to sanity until the United Cup on December 27th. If you have other tips, drop them in the comments below!

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