The game, the tournament and the fans were seriously short-changed on Wednesday when Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer progressed to the second round after their opponents defaulted with barely a whimper between them, claiming injury.
There was no discernible evidence Alexandr Dolgopolov brought his complaint to the court ready-wrapped, and he did give Federer at least a few moments of anxiety before twice refusing to chase down gettable returns in the second set then surrendering in the 43rd minute, much to the bemusement of the Centre Court patrons. It is thought his ankle gave up on him.
The patient crowd had already had to digest the altogether more problematic exit of Martin Klizan, who hobbled off after 40 minutes against Djokovic favouring his calf – but not in visibly worse condition than when he started.
Djokovic said courtside: “I heard that he had issues even before walking on to the court. Of course you never like to end a match this way. I wish him all the best.”
He said later he joked with Federer in the locker room that maybe they should play a practice set to give the crowd some entertainment. He said he supported new LTA rules whereby an injured player is able to claim prize money but a lucky loser takes their place.
He added of the players who retired: "This tournament has a special place in players' careers. In this sport there's so much weight behind it and significance about it. The aura of Wimbledon has probably always been the strongest of any tournament. Especially if you walk out on the Centre Court, there is a responsibility."
Others were less understanding, John McEnroe was predictably the most vocal television critic. “It’s no good for anyone if a player in a one-on-one sport can’t compete on an equal level,” he told BBC viewers. “I don’t know who the first lucky loser was but he will have been looking out there and saying: ‘I could have been playing on the Centre Court at Wimbledon.’”
For the record that unlucky lucky loser was Klizan’s compatriot, Lukas Lacko, ranked 105 in the world, a battler who could have done with the £35,000 cheque for appearing – as well as the thrill of playing a three-time Wimbledon champion on the biggest stage in his sport.
There was nothing to be learned from Djokovic’s performance given he had so little to test himself against, but he served competently, took two of four break points, hit 20 clean winners and only six unforced errors. It was a decent practice session.
Surely, though, the fans thought, the sainted Federer would restore a semblance of decorum an a day of anarchy. It was not his fault that he could not fully deliver – nor really could the blame be laid at Dolgopolov’s sore ankle. He probably soldiered on longer than he wanted to because it just did not look good after the Klizan farce.
The stark contrast between Federer and any gifted but lesser player becomes obvious from the earliest exchanges. Dolgopolov is someone capable of great shots and, occasionally, a stunning result; Federer’s greatness resides in not only his longevity and 18 slams, but his unwavering faith in his own genius. At least they had that in common.
Dolgopolov is always good to watch because of his wristy, rapid-armed serve and his willingness to go for big winners when small ones would do.
He hit nine winners and 15 unforced errors, including the dumped backhand to give up the first set inside half an hour and the double-fault for 0-2 in the second that precipitated his quickening descent.
Wondrous backhand flick
When the Ukrainian, who called on the trainer after the first set, did not even move from the baseline to retrieve an admittedly wondrous backhand flick in the third game of the second, it seemed he might be taking the Klizan route. The crowd were left in disbelief when Federer hit a drop shot at 30-all in the fourth game and Dolgopolov could do no more than trot to the net and blushingly give up.
“I feel for the crowd,” said Federer. “They’re there to watch good tennis, proper tennis. At least they see the two of us who gave it all they had. They saw other players that tried at least.”
The only crowd buzz going in Dolgopolov’s favour was the occasional “aah” of sympathy, accompanied by the Centre Court speciality of polite but understated applause any time Federer drove a rapier shot past him, which was often.
He was 6-3, 3-0 up at the finish; along the way he became the third player in the game to hit 10,000 aces in his career, at 4-3 in the first set. A nugget of brilliance to remember, at least.
Djokovic had led 6-3, 2-0 against Klizan. Those are scores relevant only to future trivia contests.
Bernard Tomic faces being docked a portion of his £35,000 Wimbledon prize money after a lifeless first round defeat to the number 27 seed Mischa Zverev, after which he confessed to being "bored" with tennis.
The 24-year-old – who earned the nickname “Tomic the Tank Engine” for appearing to give up during matches – denied he had deliberately quit, but did appear to lose interest after dropping the first set and offered little resistance in going down 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 in just 84 minutes.
But that was merely the hors d’oeuvres to an extraordinary post-match press conference, in which Tomic conceded that he was disillusioned with tennis, no longer cares whether he does well in grand slams, and didn’t appear inclined to put the work in to make the most of his talent.
“It was definitely a mental issue out there,” said Tomic, who reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon in 2011 and the last 16 in 2016. “I felt a little bit bored to be completely honest with you. It’s tough, you know.
“I’m 24. I have done, came on tour at 16, 17. I have been around and feels like I’m super old, but I’m not. I’m still 24, and it was tough to find motivation out there.”
Wimbledon officials confirmed to the Guardian that the referees' office had been made aware of Tomic's performance and comments and were investigating them. Guardian Service