As a BBC commentator, Tim Henman has become a spokesperson for Wimbledon during the fortnight and he is not happy with the current state of inconsistency in the rules governing play.
I’m not saying there would have been a different outcome, one of them might have pulled out on Court 1 as well, but to have two matches like that, both on Centre, is very, very disappointing. I don’t think it is the last we’ve heard of this. “It is not easy to strike the balance between people retiring and giving prize money, but then having competitive matches Tim Henman
The former British No 1, who is on the All England Club Committee, said the scenes on the Centre Court on Tuesday were ‘very, very disappointing’, adding the tournament would look at following the ATP rule that allows a player to withdraw and still receive prize money with so-called ‘lucky losers’ taking up their spot.
“If there was a question mark, we didn’t hear about it,” said Henman, adding the matches would not have been scheduled had the Committee known of the potential injuries.
“From the tournament’s point of view it is very disappointing to have two matches, on Centre Court especially, where you have two pull-outs. In hindsight you would have split them up.
“I’m not saying there would have been a different outcome, one of them might have pulled out on Court 1 as well, but to have two matches like that, both on Centre, is very, very disappointing. I don’t think it is the last we’ve heard of this.
“It is not easy to strike the balance between people retiring and giving prize money, but then having competitive matches.”
By increasing the income of lower ranked players in the qualifying and the first rounds of The Championships, the All England Lawn Tennis Club has inadvertently exacerbated the problem – the temptation to play for the money even when not fit enough to properly compete.
Instead of giving way to a fit competitor, players are turning up on court and retiring, pocketing the prize money as well as the per diem payable for every day they are in the tournament.
“At Wimbledon, we’ve tried to support the left-hand side of the draw as these players need that money to invest in the rest of the year so, if they’ve got a chance to compete, they’re prepared to take a risk on court,” added Henman.
“But we need to find a balance so they get some of the money they’ve earned but give someone else the opportunity to be really competitive. I don’t have a solution for that yet but we need to find one.
“Has Wimbledon become of victim of its own success? You’d say yes, maybe it has.”
Eight men retired from their first round matches at Wimbledon this year, several after having played for less than an hour.
Take Janko Tipsarevic, for example, who retired after just 12 minutes as he was losing 0-5 in the first set, making £35,000 for his brief court appearance.
Then there was the retirement of Martin Klizan, who very publicly gave up on Centre Court against Novak Djokovic after just 40 minutes of play and, in the very next match, Alexandr Dolgopolov retiring after only 43 minutes of play against Roger Federer.
Both players let down the Centre Court crowd, who had paid a hefty price for their tickets, as well as a worldwide television audience.
“When I went out, I felt it was a let-down for the crowd,” Federer said of the Centre Court fans, some of whom had queued overnight to watch the 18-time Grand Slam winner.
“They could not believe that it happened again, exactly the same situation.
“He called the trainer after the set, pulled out at 3-0, the same thing. I feel for the crowd, they are there to watch good tennis, proper tennis.
“At least they saw the two of us who gave it all they had.
“If you feel like it is getting worse and you can hurt yourself further, it is better to stop. The question always is: should they have started the match at all? Only the player can answer really.
“You hope they would give up their spot for somebody else if fitness is not allowing them.”
These players knew they had injuries and deliberately played in order to collect the prize money, demonstrating a complete lack of understanding that they have an obligation to their audience in what has become an entertainment career.
Top players like Federer and Djokovic have made over $100 million in prize money and endorsements in their careers so, if they were injured, they would not expect to play in a match, but for many players ranked lower, £35,000 is a lot of money and they do play, even when they are less than 100%.
Dolgopolov, ranked No 84 in the world, has made $353,552 in 2017, while Tipsarevic, ranked 63, made $160,889 this year.
Both must pay their own expenses, such as for travel and subsistence for themselves and their coaches, which costs them around $200,000 a year.
A solution is for the Grand Slams to incorporate the rule instituted by the ATP Tour as a trial last year, stipulating that, twice a year, if a player needs to forfeit his first-round match, he can still receive the prize money but will be replaced in the draw by a ‘lucky loser’.
“The ATP has adjusted its rule,” Federer said at his post-match press conference. “Maybe the Grand Slams should adopt some of that.
“Maybe they should have a look at what they could do for the players to make it just a little bit easier.”
The other men to retire from their first round matches were Feliciano Lopez, Nick Kyrgios, Viktor Troicki, Denis Istomin and Jared Donaldson.
The only retirement in the women’s draw came courtesy of Anastasia Potapova, who was a set down and 2-all with German Tatjana Maria before calling time on the match.
There was, however, yet another retirement in the second round when Belgium’s Steve Darcis cried off with a back injury when Spain’s David Ferrer, twice a quarter-finalist at Wimbledon, was leading 3-0.
“I get it from a players’ point of view,” continued Henman.
“These players are working incredibly hard throughout the year to get into the Grand Slams, get their ranking up, and it is incredibly lucrative. £35,000 is a hell of a lot of money to get for losing in the first round.
“They don’t really want to forfeit that, but, from a tournament point of view, the spectators’ point of view, and television’s point of view, we don’t want to see one-set matches.”
To add fuel to the already smouldering fire, Lopez added another £5,375 to his total earnings by participating alongside compatriot Marc Lopez in the men’s doubles on Wednesday, just 24 hours after a supposed knee injury forced him to withdraw from his singles clash with Adrian Mannarino.
Organisers cannot force players struggling with injury to sit out the event – such a stipulation would have almost certainly ruled out Andy Murray, still nursing a sore hip, from the defence of his Wimbledon title.
Players have to make that decision for themselves, mindful that they could be short-changing their audience and exercising some professional integrity in the process.
Consistency of rule is essential for the future health of the sport and the on-going nonsense of differing time periods between points and injury rules continues to wrangle.
A 20-second rule applies at the Grand Slams while on the ATP Tour it is 25 seconds, and five set matches now take longer than they did decades ago so time is of the essence.
Many are calling for the abolition of the warm-up and strict enforcement of the 20-second rule by introducing an on-court clock to measure the time. Why this has not already happened is a mystery.
In fact, the ATP will be the first to trial a ‘stop-clock’ at its Next Gen Finals later this year.
The ITF, jealous guardians of the Rules of Tennis, are as slow as the Grand Slams to change their rules and reluctant to be dictated to by the ATP and WTA Tours, although collaboration is now better than it has ever been in the past.
Despite such collaboration, unification of the rules, at least from a spectators perspective, still seems to be eons away.
Without a worldwide audience, professional tennis, be it men’s, women’s or combined at the majors, could well lose its following so let’s take care of those who pay at the gate and remember events such as Wimbledon are show time not pay time.
As for not trying, organisers can only fine the likes of Bernard Tomic, who has been slapped with the second-largest single fine in Wimbledon history for his shocking first-round antics.
Tomic said he lacked respect for the game of tennis, was bored by playing it and that he had used a medical timeout as a strategy to disrupt Germany’s Mischa Zverev.
The Wimbledon referees’ office on Thursday morning handed him an £11,000 fine for unsportsmanlike conduct, and his racket sponsor, Head, have dropped him over the comments.
The world No 59 pretended to have a back injury and called for the trainer midway through the second set, but opted not to take any medication.
“I just tried to break a bit of momentum but just couldn’t find any rhythm and, you know, wasn’t mentally and physically there with my mental state to perform,” Tomic said.
In an extraordinary aftermath, Tomic also confessed to being ‘bored’ against Zverev and that he had lost motivation for the game, was only playing for money and he no longer cared how he performed at Grand Slam tournaments.
“We were extremely disappointed with the statements made at Wimbledon by one of our sponsored athletes, Bernard Tomic,” a spokes person for HEAD said in a statement.
“His opinions in no way reflect our own attitude for tennis, our passion, professionalism and respect for the game.”
Good to know there are still some consequences for poor behaviour.