Why were Djokovic and Murray not subject to the same criticism as Klizan and Dolgopolov?

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

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Wimbledon: Five women who could make the second week for the first time

With the world’s most prestigious tennis tournament just around the corner, here is a quick look at five players who could break their Wimbledon hoodoo and reach the second week.

 

Karolina Pliskova

Karolina Pliskova

Pliskova is considered by many to be the Wimbledon favourite following her triumph at Eastbourne. The 25-year-old is blessed with massive groundstrokes and a potent serve, with an ability to serve and volley when necessary. Her end-of-year ranking has risen every year since 2006 and she has claimed three titles on the WTA Tour this year, with the latest in East Sussex her second on grass after winning in Nottingham last year. The absence of Serena Williams undoubtedly  opens a window of opportunity for Pliskova to stake her claim to become world number one and the Czech’s current form suggests that she will be difficult to stop.

 

Elina Svitolina

Elina Svitolina1

Svitolina is another player who has made continuous improvements since entering the senior ranks in 2010 and, at the age of just 22, she has plenty of time to get even better. Her aggressive game should suit grass, but the Ukrainian has not yet claimed a Tour title on the surface. However, her form this year has been scintillating, picking up titles in Rome, Istanbul, Taipei City and Dubai, defeating both Pliskova and Simona Halep in the Italian capital. The Odessa-born player also matched her best-ever performance at a Grand Slam last month, reaching the last eight of Roland Garros. A repeat outcome in SW19 would definitely be considered a success.

 

Johanna Konta

Johanna Konta1

As the only British woman in the top 100, Konta is very much carrying the weight of expectation on her shoulders. Of the five players listed here, her improvement has been the most startling. As 2014 drew to a close, the 25-year-old was world number 150 and was struggling to find any sort of consistency. Fast forward two-and-a-half years and she is one of the in-form players on the circuit, with her serve being a major asset. Konta has already notched up two titles this year in Sydney and Miami, with a runner-up finish in Nottingham. Her home Grand Slam does not hold happy memories, but, if fit, she should progress beyond the second round, her best performance to date.

 

Kristina Mladenovic

Kristina Mladenovic

France’s top female player, Mladenovic comes into this tournament having reached the quarter-finals of Roland Garros. Her ability at the net and her use of drop shots and volleys to good effect makes the 24-year-old a highly unpredictable opponent. These skills have allowed her to carve out an excellent doubles career. She partnered Timea Babos at the All England Club three years ago, reaching the final and went one better in the mixed event the previous year, playing alongside Daniel Nestor. She partners Svetlana Kuznetsova this time round. It is hard to envisage her lifting the Venus Rosewater Dish on 15 June, but she is a different proposition in doubles.

 

Jelena Ostapenko

Jelena Ostapenko

Ostapenko is by no means the youngest or the lowest-ranked player ever to win a major, but her sensational win at Roland Garros rocked the tennis world. Her high-risk strategy did not change throughout the tournament, as the Latvian produced an astounding number of winners and unforced errors, swinging freely and giving her opponents no time to breathe. Her name was unfamiliar to the vast majority of observers, but having moved from number 47 in the world before the Paris tournament to inside the top 15, she will now have her cards marked. She will also compete alongside Raquel Atawo in the doubles competition as the 11th seeds.

Images (from top to bottom): Julian Finney/Getty Images AsiaPac, Stanley Chou/Getty Images AsiaPac, Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images, Ian Walton/Getty Images Europe, Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images

Featured image: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images

Roland Garros: Five men who could make the second week for the first time

With the second Grand Slam of the year about to begin, it seemed high time to look at some of the players who could break new ground at Roland Garros this year and possibly spring a few surprises along the way.

Alexander Zverev

Zverev

Zverev is in the form of his life and is destined to remain in the upper echelons of the game for many years to come. The rangy right-hander has enjoyed a breakthrough year on the Tour, but there were signs in 2016 that he would be one to watch, when he sewed the title in St. Petersburg last September, defeating Stan Wawrinka in the final over three sets.

Since then, the German has gone from strength to strength, adding three more titles to his collection, two of which came on clay. His ability to raise his game against the world’s elite has been astonishing and was underlined when he outclassed Novak Djokovic to pick his most recent crown in Rome.

Zverev will face a very stiff first-round test in the form of Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, but the 20-year-old has already shown on a number of occasions that he can overcome adversity.

Grigor Dimitrov

Dimitrov

Many who watched Dimitrov blitz Andy Murray in a clinical Wimbledon quarter-final performance in 2014 would have expected the Bulgarian to push on. It hasn’t quite transpired like that, but the 26-year-old is displaying his swashbuckling brand of tennis on a far more regular basis in 2017.

The recruitment of coach Dani Vallverdu, formerly part of Murray’s coaching set-up, was a major coup and the intensive work that took place in the off-season in Monte Carlo has paid dividends. Impressive victories over Dominic Thiem, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori led the former junior champion at the All England Club to the title in Brisbane and this was backed up with a memorable victory in Sofia.

His first encounter during the fortnight will be against the experienced Frenchman Stephane Robert. Time will tell if Dimitrov can break his Grand Slam final duck.

Lucas Pouille

Lucas Pouille

Pouille was not on many people’s radar heading into last year and his name would have drawn shrugs from many regular observers of the sport. However, that all changed in 2016, when the 23-year-old reached two Tour finals and two consecutive Grand Slam quarter-finals, at Wimbledon and the US Open, which included a sensational win over Rafael Nadal in the latter competition.

His sole title triumph this year was on clay in Budapest, where he convincingly crushed Briton Aljaz Bedene. At 6′ 1” he is not one of the tallest men on the circuit, but the Dubai resident compensates for that deficiency with a strong defensive game and a searing two-handed backhand.

Pouille’s first assignment at his home Major is against compatriot Julien Benneteau, a team-mate in France’s Davis Cup team. Given his remarkable recent improvement, bettering last year’s third-round performance at Roland Garros seems highly likely.

Nick Kyrgios

Kyrgios

Kyrgios has been beset by plenty of controversies in his fledgling career, but the 22-year-old has certainly matured recently and his scintillating brand of tennis can trouble any player in the world.

The Australian shot to prominence at Wimbledon three years ago, with an all-action display that shocked Nadal and those in attendance at SW19. His explosive groundstrokes, excellent balance and soft hands make him an exciting player to watch and last year saw him develop greater consistency with titles in Marseille, Atlanta and Tokyo. 2017 has not been as successful trophies-wise, but Kyrgios has claimed two notable scalps over Novak Djokovic.

The Canberra-born player’s first test will be against the elegant Philipp Kohlschreiber, who could push his young opponent all the way. A potentially intriguing duel.

Pablo Carreno Busta

Pablo Carreno Busta

One of a seemingly endless number of Spaniards to roll off the production line, Carreno Busta has taken a little longer to bloom than some of his fellow countrymen. However, his game has come in massively in the last year and he is currently nestled just outside the top 20.

The 25-year-old can generate a lot of power off both wings and is not afraid to come in and dispatch the loose ball when necessary, with his delicate touch at the net an indication of his extensive doubles experience. Last year saw him pick up his first ATP Tour titles, in Winston-Salem and Moscow. The Gijon-born player then captured his first clay court title in Estoril just three weeks ago.

Carreno Busta faces German Florian Mayer in round one, with a potential third-round match-up against Dimitrov on the horizon.

Featured image: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe

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