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The six seasons of the tennis year

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The top tennis players in the world face a grueling schedule of events throughout the year
  • The season falls into six distinct phases based around four grand slams and big money events
  • Players must show their adadaptability on hard courts, clay, grass and indoor carpet
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(CNN) -- The elite of world tennis base their campaigns around the four grand slams in their battle for supremacy, but in reality their year falls into six distinct phases as they target the big-money tournaments and crucial ranking points.

To reach the very top, the stars of the game have to show their versaility by playing at various venues, in differing climates and on a variety of different surfaces.

The demands of playing in the blazing heat at outdoor grand slams such as the Australian Open must be conquered, in the same way that skills must be adapted for the lucrative indoor circuit which crescendos with the season-closing ATP World Tour finals in London in November.

Both current world number one's -- Roger Federer in the men's and Serena Williams in the women's -- have shown their flexibility by completing career grand slams as well as recording a string of victories in the other major tournaments.

Here is CNN's guide to the "six seasons" and the events to watch for in each phase:

Early season slam:

The start of the New Year heralds immediate pressure with the opening grand slam of the season at the Australian Open in the third week of January.

Extreme heat and jet lag provide an extra challenge for the players, who are coming off their short close season and need to get up to speed fast.

Traditional warm-up tournaments in Brisbane and Sydney cater for both the WTA and ATP tours, while the non-ranking exhibition event for men at Kooyong is just around the corner from Melbourne Park where Roger Federer has been a regular attraction.

The Australian Open is played on outdoor hard courts, athough the main showcase courts have the benefit of a roof to protect from rain and the glare of the sun.

Victory in the season-opening slam, in 2010 for Federer and Serena, tends to set the pattern for the rest of the year, but there's a long way to go.

The hard court swing part one:

Big-money events for men and women take place in Dubai at the end of February but the next major rendevouz for our tennis elite sees them in the United States in the first week of March for two massive outdoor hard court showdowns.

Indian Wells in the California desert hosts the first Masters 1000 tournament of the season for men and a WTA Premier Series event for women with a total prize list of $8 million.

It is a similar story for the next stop on the respective tours at Key Biscayne in Florida, which is spread over 10 days with a 96-strong draw in both the men's and women's tournaments, reflected in the prize money and ranking points on offer for successful players.

Spring on European clay:

The build-up to the second grand slam of the season on the clay of Roland Garros for the French Open is a prolonged affair, leaving players with plenty of time to adapt to the demands of clay with its longer rallies and marathon matches.

For the top men, the first serious test on clay comes at the Masters 1000 tournament in the playground of the rich in Monte Carlo in the second week of April, with two more top-tier clay events in Madrid and Rome to follow.

The likes of Rafael Nadal come into their own during this swing which culminates in Paris for two weeks in the last week of May and first week of June.

The leading women track their male counterparts with Premier tier events in Rome and Madrid the week after the men in the build-up to the French Open.

Short but sweet, as games get fast on grass:

From the slowest surface on clay to the fastest on grass, the top players must show their adaptability and show it fast.

Coming off the French Open, there is a little over two weeks to prepare for the delights of Wimbledon and the third slam of the year.

The quiet English seaside town of Eastbourne offers the leading women a chance to hone their skills in a Premier level tournament, while the top men take to the court at the traditional setting of Queen's Club in west London or head for Halle in Germany.

Then it is straight to SW19 (the London post code of the Wimbledon venue), and for the lucky ones, two weeks of frenetic action on the hallowed turf of Centre Court or Court One, with arguably the most sought after titles in tennis at stake.

The hard court swing part two:

After Wimbledon, variety is the name of the game with a glut of events on differing surfaces and the quarterfinals of the Davis Cup World Group putting an extra demand on the top male players in the second week of July.

But the emphasis soon switches to North America and preparation for the final slam of the season at Flushing Meadows, New York in late August.

So it is back to serious hard-court action for those with true pretensions of rankings' glory and as in the clay court phase, the men and women interchange weeks in Cincinnati and Toronto for top-tier events.

Then the reserve of Wimbledon is swapped for the brashness of the Big Apple and the U.S.Open for the last chance to win one of the four major titles by which all great players are inevitably measured.

The rankings battle decided:

The grueling tennis season leaves little time for rest and although the grand slams are behind them, the battle for rankings supremacy can be won or lost in a series of money-spinning tournaments.

The men's and women's tours are re-united for the Kremlin Cup in Moscow and at the start of October for the lucrative China Open with over $6 million on offer.

The men traditionally focus on the big indoor tournaments in the European autumn with lucrative stops in Moscow, Basel and Valencia before the final counting event of the season at Bercy in Paris and the final Masters 1000.

After Paris, the top eight ranked men's and doubles players head to their ATP World Tour Finals in London in the last week of November.

The women's season ends in the last week of October with a strong Asia focus before the WTA season-ending championship in Qatar.

The Fed Cup World Group finals caps their year a week later, while for the men it is the Davis Cup final in the first week of December and a short rest before it all starts again.