Monday 20 November 2017

First-round flake-outs give no value for money on Centre Court


Andre Agassi takes his seat to watch Novak Djokovic. Photo credit: Adam Davy/PA Wire.
Andre Agassi takes his seat to watch Novak Djokovic. Photo credit: Adam Davy/PA Wire.

Oliver Brown

They had queued up - some of them for two days - to witness a sunlit double-header of Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer on Centre Court.

Instead they endured an afternoon's tennis so embarrassingly truncated that their two heroes joked in the locker room afterwards about heading back out for a practice set - if only to give the short-changed masses their money's worth.

There should be no sugaring the pill: this was a pitiful advert for the sport.

First, Slovakia's Martin Klizan, carrying a calf injury that he had sustained a fortnight earlier, shook hands with Djokovic and sloped off just two games into the second set.

Then Aleksandr Dolgopolov, a Ukrainian who plays like a cat on a hot tin roof at the best of times, gave up the ghost after 40 minutes, explaining to Federer that his ankle was too sore when serving.

Throw in the fact that Bernard Tomic had succumbed in disgracefully half-hearted style to Germany's Mischa Zverev on Court 14, claiming that he had felt "bored", and it all added up to a lamentable parade of first-round flake-outs.

They came, they saw, they skulked off. And all of them left £35,000 richer.

John McEnroe, a man with such low tolerance of less-than-maximum effort that he once berated even Djokovic for pulling out of a 2007 Wimbledon semi-final with an infected toe, was scathing about the rules that had enabled Klizan to compete in the first place.

"It's not good to see that on Centre Court," he said. "The powers that be - Wimbledon and the ATP - need to take a hard look at things."

In fact, the ATP recently introduced a rule designed to avert this type of farce, decreeing that any player qualifying for a tournament by ranking should receive first-round prize money irrespective of injury.

So far, so very sensible. But the edict has yet to filter through to the slams, and so we were left with this abject excuse for a Centre Court programme.

The underlying problem at Grand Slam level is the escalating remuneration of failure.

As part of a £3.5m increase in the total Wimbledon prize fund, offsetting the declining value of the pound post-Brexit, it is the first-round losers who have enjoyed the largest percentage increase in their rewards, up 17 per cent from 2016.

The carrot of £35,000 is hugely enticing for the itinerants who ply the outer darkness of the men's tour - certainly for the six British male wild card picks, who between them this year won the grand total of two sets out of 20.

It is not unattractive, either, for a mercenary like Tomic, the Australian who was once said to have the talent of Federer but who plays with all the heart of a broad bean. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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