Wimbledon: Centre Court fans left short-changed by retirements
Opponents of both Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer retire with injury
Slovakia’s Martin Klizan reacts after he was forced to retire with a leg injury from his first-round match against Serbia’s Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon. Photograph: Matthew Childs/Reuters
The game, the tournament and the fans were seriously short-changed on Tuesday 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 that Alexandr Dolgopolov brought his complaint to the court ready wrapped, and he did give Federer at least a few moments anxiety before twice refusing to chase down gettable returns in the second set before 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 revealed 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 that he suported 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 other tournament.
“Especially if you walk out on the Centre Court, there is a responsibility. I’m sure they tried their best, but it is what it is.”
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 (€40,000) 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 just six unforced errors. It was a decent practice session.
This 131st Wimbledon had already been blighted by Nick Kyrgios’s withdrawal mid-match on day one, and his fellow Australian, Bernard Tomic, who brought a back pain to his match against Mischa Zverev, and did not exactly leave graciously on day two.
The one-time rising star declared after going down meekly in three sets to an opponent he beat on grass in Eastbourne last week, “I felt a little bit bored out there, to be completely honest with you.” That’s all right, then.
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 didn’t 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, winning or losing, 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.
When Dolgopolov, 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 exit. The crowd were left in disbelief when Federer drop-shotted him 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.