Convincing injured tennis players to withdraw is difficult
ON July 4 at the All England Club in Wimbledon, the first round matches with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic ended even faster than the fans of these two superstars had hoped. Mr Federer and Mr Djokovic have a long history of making quick work of early opponents, but this year, their foes – Slovakia’s Martin Klizan and Ukraine’s Alexandr Dolgopolov – did not last to a third set. Both retired midway through the second.
None of the players suffered a sudden, terrible injury. Instead, the two entered the tournament with fearsome complaints that – along with their fearsome opponents – proved to be too much, leaving the organizers of the competition scrambling to put a replacement on Center Court. Fans felt cheated too. Mr Federer and Mr Djokovic were relatively safe bets to progress to the second round: between them they have lost only two sets in the first round of a major since 2010. But even lopsided matches usually overlap the hour mark and gives some time. sense of victory for the winner. None of the retirements on Tuesday allowed until 45 minutes. If Mr Klizan and Mr Dolgopolov had known the extent of their injuries and been sidelined before their matches, the tournament would have replaced them with “lucky losers” – players who fell in the last round of qualifications – and even if the end result would have been the same, thousands of fans would have felt so empty.
Mr. Klizan and Mr. Dolgopolov were not the only competitors who disappointed in this way. Of the 64 matches in the first round of this year’s Championships, seven ended in retirement. The most ignorant case was that of Janko Tipsarevic (pictured above) who threw in the towel after five games and 15 minutes against Jared Donaldson. The large number of suspended tournaments, combined with the high profile of Tuesday’s Center Court slate, has drawn attention to the retirement level, prompting a number of proposals designed to make it more likely that games will be played until the end of the season. -decide to increase them.
The most popular proposal is for the International Tennis Federation (ITF) – the governing body of the grand slams, of which Wimbledon is one – to introduce a rule this year by the Association of Professionals Tennis (ATP), which rules the rest of the men’s circuit. Under the new policy, a player who withdraws before the first round will still win the first round loser’s prize, while his place in the draw is given to a lucky loser. Six months on from the ATP trial, the number of pre-tournament withdrawals has more than doubled. However, despite the promotion trend, the number of retirements in the first round has also increased slightly.
Getting the incentives right is especially important at grand slams, because the stakes are so high. This year’s Wimbledon first-round losers will earn £35,000 ($45,000), a sum that is more a reward for earning a place in the draw than compensation for two or three hours of time in court. Mr Tipsarevic’s earning rate of over £2,000 per minute is easy to guess, but to raise his ranking to the level that would give him a place in the Wimbledon bracket, Mr Tipsarevic spent much of the year on the minimum level. – ranked challenger, taking home less than $15,000 after winning two tournaments in January. But the ATP rules cannot deal with the importance of a tournament like Wimbledon. Players don’t struggle for years to collect a £35,000 cheque; they do that to compete at the majors. And even when they are in physical danger, they are tempted by the extra rewards, such as another £22,000 for a place in the second round. A performance in the third round translates into an extra 80 rating points – the same amount Mr Tipsarevic earned for each of his wins in January. Among the second tier of the sport, all but the most popular players will want to take their chances.
Additionally, players with injuries take the court to majors just a little more often than they do to smaller events. From 2007 to 2016, 2.5% of first-round grand slam matches ended in retirement, compared to 1.9% of opening matches at ATP events. Among women, the effect is reversed, with 1.2% of first-round matches at majors ending in a retirement, compared to 2.6% of opening matches at other top-level events. The prize purse at slams may have some influence on a player’s decision to compete, but at events with much less money on the line, there are almost as many men – and more players in general – choosing to take the court.
Another option that may be more appropriate for the traditionalists of the All-England Club is simply to do nothing. Seven retirements this week in the first round of the men’s are among the most injured in the history of men’s tennis, but that is not unique. It’s the fourth time in a decade that at least seven have withdrawn from their opening tournament, and it ranks alongside the top ten retirements in the sweltering conditions of the 2015 US Open. Even s including that bloodbath in Flushing, from 2007 to 2016, an average of three men per major left their first-round matches early, compared to two per major during the 1990s. For every seven-retirement klaxon, there is no event like last year’s Wimbledon, when all 64 first-round ties were played to finish. For all the hubbub focused on the men’s draw, 127 of 128 women completed their opening attempts this week.
If something needs to be done, a reasonable place to start would be the players who retire much more often than their peers. Mr Tipsarevic and Mr Klizan each conceded about once every 25 matches – almost three times the rate of tour regulars, and in stark contrast to Mr Federer, who has never finished a single one of his 1,351 career matches. ever. Although it would not be desirable to force players to finish what they start, various incentives, such as the removal of prize money, could be applied to competitors who have been less inclined to go – out For the rest of the field, the majors – and not just their first-round prize money – are simply too important. For Wimbledon and its fans, the occasional retirement from Center Court is a small price to pay to maintain the status of a tournament that claims pride of place on almost every table of tennis stars.