The needle-and-spoon set aren't the only junkies to suffer from withdrawal symptoms. Sports junkies are feeling their own withdrawal pains as well. Tennis fans who bought tickets to see Roger Federer play in the Paris Masters this week can tell you all about it. The world number one withdrew at the last minute citing fatigue from an over-extended schedule as well as the need to rest up before the season ending Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai from November 12-19. Also sending their regrets to Paris organisers were world number two Rafael Nadal (stomach injury) and number three David Nalbandian (gastroenteritis), who joined two other top-10 players, Andy Roddick and Ivan Ljubicic, on the sideline. Of course the pain Nadal and Nalbandian are feeling in their stomachs is nothing compared to the indigestion Paris organisers are feeling. 'The only thing a player understand today are financial sanctions, fines,' said tournament co-director and former US Open and Wimbledon finalist, Cedric Pioline. 'But given the money they earn, they don't care about that. We have to ask the players to think about it; you need discipline. When you don't respect what you promise, there's a problem.' Federer, Nadal, Nalbandian, Roddick and Ljubicic are all slated to play in the Shanghai showpiece event. Maybe. It's the biggest tournament of the year outside of the four grand slams with only the top eight players in the world qualifying. Yet three of the top eight did not show up for last year's fiasco and two others did not finish. You can bet at least one and maybe two or three players will withdraw this year as well. If you really want to punish the players, don't go. Seriously. The only thing dumber than being a promoter for one of these events is paying to watch. After all, who would you go out of your way to watch play tennis these days? Federer would certainly qualify, only because he is in the prime of a career which could seal his legacy as the greatest player ever. But even at that, he is not a particularly charismatic character, certainly not on the scale of an Andre Agassi or a John McEnroe. And Federer is clearly the best of the lot. His rivalry with Nadal is all men's tennis has going for it right now. The truth is the marquee tournaments are bigger than the players. You watch Wimbledon because it is Wimbledon, not because Nikolay Davydenko is playing Tommy Robredo. And those two guys are in the world's top 10. When your tournament lacks the cachet of a Wimbledon or the French Open, which all of them do, you need an absolutely top-drawer field to excite spectators. But as last year's event in Shanghai showed, even that is not a sure thing. Women's tennis may have a few more compelling personalities, but they have the same problems as the men. Top seeds Maria Sharapova, Lindsay Davenport and Venus Williams all withdrew from the 2005 China Open while an out-of-shape Serena Williams was quickly disposed of in the first round. Fans would have been better off watching Venus and Serena shop than play tennis because they seem to move much better around a Louis Vuitton or Hermes boutique than they do around a tennis court. And it's hard not to blame them. After all, the over-riding component for any great champion is hunger. As soon as you stop being hungry, you stop being a champion. They are financially secure so why not enjoy it. But if you take an appearance fee and agree to have your face used in an expensive marketing and promotional campaign, then you have a fiduciary responsibility. With nothing but a paltry financial penalty in place to punish last-minute withdrawals, the problem has become endemic. All that can force them to play and to show up in competitive shape is professional pride, which seems to be a foreign concept among the tennis aristocracy these days. For overseas golf tournaments, it cost you somewhere in the neighbourhood of US$3 million to get Tiger Woods in the field. True, it's an exorbitant fee that borders on extortion, except for the fact that Woods doesn't force anybody's hand. Promoters gleefully line up to pay him and once they lock him up, they proceed to roll out a massive media blitz with the world number one all over it. They can do this with a fair amount of confidence because Woods', despite his money, is the consummate professional. Promoters can usually rely on him not only showing up but putting on a memorable display. Woods' hunger is his professionalism. Too bad he can't play tennis.