One of the main talking points during the opening days of this year’s Championships was the issue of retirements, with seven retirements on the men’s side during the first round compared to just one in the women’s competition. This issue was brought into particularly sharp focus when the Centre Court saw two out of the three matches curtailed on the second day, as Martin Klizan and Alexandr Dolgopolov bowed out prematurely in back-to-back encounters against Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer respectively. The matches lasted for a combined time of one hour and 22 minutes.
John McEnroe was quick to pile in, saying that there has “got to be a rule for guys who come out clearly not giving or able to give 100 per cent. Ultimately the player needs to be given advice and made to understand what he is doing to his own reputation and to the sport.”
The criticism of Klizan and Dolgopolov was that they came into the tournament carrying injuries, but were happy to pick up the cheque for those exiting at the first-round stage of £35,000 (which is awarded even if you retire injured). The Slovakian and the Ukrainian could have both dropped out prior to the match, giving an opportunity to a lucky loser who would put up a better fight than these two men did, potentially progress far and pick up decent prize money in the process.
This argument definitely holds some merit. Crowds want value for money and you don’t get that if an opponent is clearly in discomfort from the early stages.
However, both men were merely making the most of their opportunity to play on Centre Court. While both have had spells in the top 50, they have not been in the upper echelons of the game for long enough to enjoy these massive moments on a regular basis. The rule is the problem, not the players. By choosing not to dish out prize money to those who drop out, Wimbledon could send a message that only those who are fit can compete.
Which opens up a can of worms. Both Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic were carrying niggles coming into the fortnight, but they were able to avoid criticism when they eventually bowed out. They also deprived a lucky loser the chance to embark on the adventure of a lifetime, but McEnroe was strangely silent.
The problem that people had with Klizan and Dolgopolov was not that they retired, it’s that they were unseeded and they retired. Murray and Djokovic got sufficiently far in the tournament that they were spared the accusation of making a quick buck (or hundreds of thousands of bucks in this case), despite knowing that injuries were hampering their performance and that the crowd was not able to enjoy a match with two physically fit athletes going hammer and tongs at each other.
There is this perception that the world’s top two were right to expect that they would reach the latter stages at SW19 due to their past success, whereas Klizan and Dolgopolov were not. This completely overlooks the fact that shocks do happen and the latter two men have just as much of a right to prove themselves as the former.
It may be that, as the tournament progressed, different topics began to occupy the minds of the columnists, pundits and tweeters. Certainly, the fact that successive matches ended abruptly on the main show court is rare and will provoke debate. It does seem convenient though that while the integrity of Klizan and Dolgopolov was questioned, Murray and Djokovic’s reputations remained intact and the critics fell silent.
While Klizan and Dolgopolov may not be blameless, they were simply not judged by the same yardstick as Djokovic and Murray. Perhaps if they win a Grand Slam singles title, they will be.
Featured image: Andy Hooper