Roger Federer Soared, but did Wimbledon?

Aside Roger Federer’s historic Wimbledon win, the rest of the tournament lacked the accustomed pageantry.

Updated: July 17, 2017 • 8:26 PM ET

Roger Federer had a historic 2017 Wimbledon.

Roger Federer made a formidable case at Wimbledon for being remembered as the greatest male tennis player of all time. He played his record 11th Wimbledon final and won a record 8th title at the event. He also earned a record 19th Grand Slam, doing it all without dropping a set, which broke a record held by Bjorn Borg from 1976.


With all this history authored by Federer, did Wimbledon live up to its own historic standards? Not if you look more closely. The fortnight was rife with quitters, pay for play, male favoritism, poor clock management and spoiler warning, “underweargate”.




The Quitters & Pay for Play


By the end of the tournament, 10 men had retired from their matches — a record. Two retirements on Day 1 involved Federer and Novak Djokovic. Wimbledon certainly knows the power of the Big Four, with regard to ticket sales. These players are always placed on Centre Court and Court 1, the two show courts. 


Fiona Wong, a diehard Federer fan from Australia, “flew more than 30 hours to see her favorite player at Wimbledon for the first time,” according to The New York Times. “She then waited 30 hours to get in to see him.”


You guessed it, Federer’s opponent, Alexandr Dolgopolov, a dynamic player with unconventional strokes, facial gestures and a serve that belies his stature, retired 43 minutes into the encounter. The same thing happened with Djokovic that day. His opponent, Martin Klizan, retired after 40 minutes. 


“Especially if you walk out on the Centre Court, there is a responsibility,” Djokovic later told the press. “I’m sure they tried their best, but it is what it is.”


The issue here is money. If a player takes to the court in any given round at Wimbledon and every other slam, they’re entitled to the money earned for that round. In the case of Dolgopolov and Klizan, they pocketed £35,000 and didn’t break any rule. They needed the money and rationalized, perhaps, they could get through the match. 


Here’s what Wimbledon needs to do: adapt the policy used by the ATP. If a player is entered in a draw and is unable to play a round due to injury, they can withdraw. A Lucky Loser from the qualification tournament would then enter in that berth.  


“I feel for the crowd,” Federer said. “They’re there to watch good tennis, proper tennis.”





Male Favoritism


Then came Manic Monday, the best day for tennis fans. All the men and women who’d advanced to the fourth round hit the courts. Yet, The All England Club put a dent in the merriment when it scheduled more men on the show courts, while women were relegated to outer courts with less seating capacity. Cries of favoritism were pronounced. 


“I wouldn’t say it’s favoritism,” All England Club chief executive Richard Lewis told The Courier. “I would say it’s taking the marquee matches. It’s not about male or female.


“In the end, it’s about which matches you feel the public and broadcasters want to see.”


All other Grand Slams routinely schedule four or five matches on their show courts. But since matches begin at 1 p.m. on Wimbledon’s show courts, fewer matches can be played before light fades.


“We view these things from time to time,” Lewis said. “It doesn’t work for us. Whether it will work in the future at any stage I’m not sure.


“The start time of 1 p.m., already you see fans struggling to get into Court One and Centre and that’s not just corporate hospitality. People travel from long and large distances, and they want to use off-peak fares.”


“Obviously, I think ideally you would have two men’s and two women’s on Centre,” top seed Andy Murray said via The Courier. “If there’s better matches on the women’s side than the men’s side, you can flip it. If there’s better matches on the men’s side, then that has to go first, as well.


“So maybe starting the matches a little bit sooner, a little bit earlier in the day, and splitting them between men and women. It’s not the hardest thing to do.”





Poor Clock Management


And then there’s the logjam of decision-making at Wimbledon, when matches run longer than expected. 


Rafael Nadal fell two sets behind Gilles Muller during their quarterfinal match on Court 1 with Djokovic and Adrian Mannarino up next. As the light faded and Nadal’s match went into a fifth set, the likelihood that Djokovic and Mannarino would play dimmed. With no one on Centre Court, the question arose — why not put them there? It has a roof and can accommodate a match until 11 p.m.


“We spoke with the referee, supervisors, trying to understand the thought process that they are having,” Djokovic, a three-time champion, said Tuesday via The New York Times. “I just think it was a wrong decision not to play us last night, because we could have played.”







At the top of the hit parade of Wimbledon faults stood the underwear debate. The all-white policy is strict, but having a supervisor come out on court and check a player’s undergarments went too far.


Jurij Rodionov, an 18-year-old competitor in Boys’ Singles, was asked to show his underwear to the chair umpire. Here was a bleached-blond teen with a ‘man-bun’, yet the blue underwear became the issue. Rodionov followed orders and pulled down his white shorts. Indeed, the underwear was blue. 


“Ah,” supervisor Lucy Grant said, standing on court after being called to duty by the umpire. “This is a problem we have. If you’re serving, the shorts could become visible.” 


Grant’s call for a new, white pair of undershorts came quickly, “Can we have some underwear to Court 18, boys?” Rodionov laughed and went on to win the match.


Wimbledon, though, showed selective punishment. Venus Williams, in her opening round, wore a red bra that peaked through the straps of her white top. No one pulled her off court. Sam Querrey, in his quarterfinal match with Murray, wore underwear that had a black waistband. Again, he was not called to task. 


So Wimbledon, if you’re going to enforce the rule, then enforce the rule.





Less Than Perfect Lawns and Flying Ants


Wimbledon’s famous lawns were lumpy, slippery, bruised and bashed within a couple days. And what about the flying ants? Cameras picked up the swarms, as they dive-bombed players. 


“I definitely have taken home a few both in my belly and in my bags,” women’s player Johanna Konta said via The New York Times.


Wait, she swallowed the bugs?


“I’m pretty sure I have,” she responded.


The flying ants and the disheveled lawns were brushed aside by the All England Club. Both were a result of hot weather and lots of sunshine, and nothing in the formulation of grass seed or the maintenance of the courts had changed. Even Federer piped up about the lawn’s condition.


“What happens with the grass, in my opinion, like where we stand the most, the grass gets beat up and used, and sometimes it's not attached anymore,” Federer said via USA TODAY. “You know, it's like dead grass. It changes color. And that bit can be slippery.”


Via The Guardian, the All England Club offered a statement about the lawns:


“The court preparation has been to exactly the same meticulous standard as in previous years. Grass is a natural surface and it is usual for the baselines to start to be showing signs of wear and tear four days into the Championships.”




Stodgy. Fuddy-duddy. These are generalizations sometimes associated with England. Wimbledon, though, has to keep up with the times. It has to be even in administering its policies. Otherwise, players and the press will take them to task and force the issues it doesn’t want to face. Rationalizations, such as Lewis put forth, “We view these things from time to time. It doesn’t work for us,” don’t live up to consumer, fan or media expectations. Wimbledon, it seems, needs to learn some good-ole American marketing.

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