“The announcement was delivered under circumstances that verged on the Hitchcockian.”The New York Times' Robin Finn, on Monica Seles' 1991 Wimbledon withdrawal
Scheduling has always been a hot topic on the professional tour, with some players claiming the gruelling demands of the tennis calendar make them prone to injury. And with some recent big withdrawals, we thought we’d count down the most noteworthy – and controversial – retirements and withdrawals that have rocked the sport.
10. Nadal withdraws from 2012 US Open
The biggest shock to come out of this spate of player injuries has been Rafael Nadal’s withdrawal from the upcoming US Open. The Spaniard, who we last saw upset in the second round of Wimbledon, continues to struggle with knee problems. It’s the first Grand Slam he’s missed since Wimbledon in 2009. The reaction has been huge – the withdrawal has dominated tennis news headlines and sparked comments from fellow players far and wide in support of the popular Spaniard.
9. Nadal retires against Murray – Australian Open 2010 quarterfinals
Continuing with the Rafa theme, the Spaniard again caused a stir when he retired during the third set of his quarterfinal battle with Andy Murray at the Australian Open in 2010. Having missed Wimbledon the previous year due to knee tendonitis, there were grave fears that the recurrence of this injury would spell something far more serious for his long-term career prospects. Yet thankfully that was not the case – Nadal recovered to claim the remaining three Grand Slam titles of 2010.
8. Venus Williams retires after one game at Australian Open 2011
Williams picked up an acute psoas injury – a muscle in the pelvic region – during her second-round match against Sandra Zahlavova and bravely fought on to win in three. But when she returned to court for her third-round feature night match against Andrea Petkovic, it was clear all was not well. The American limped around the court for a game-and-a-half before shrieking in pain when stretched on a return. Shortly after, she called it quits, leaving a stunned – but sympathetic – Rod Laver Arena crowd hoping they had not seen the last of the elder Williams sister.
7. Agassi’s wrist surgery prompts Australian Open withdrawal
Four-time Australian Open champion Andre Agassi avoided the tournament in the early stage of his career, skipping the event seven years running before deciding to commit to playing in 1994. Yet fans thrilled by the prospect of finally seeing the flamboyant American action found themselves disappointed. Surgery to correct tendonitis in his wrist – which plagued him throughout 1993 – revealed more extensive damage to the joint than originally thought, forcing Agassi to skip the tournament once again.
6. Djokovic’s Grand Slam retirements
Coming within one match at this year’s French Open of holding all four major titles at once, Novak Djokovic earlier in his career held a far less glamorous distinction – he was just one retirement away from achieving a boxed set of Grand Slam withdrawals. Before his herculean 2011 season, Djokovic was regarded by some as a talented player with a fragile streak, a combination of breathing, stamina and fitness issues seeing him physically wilt in several Grand Slam matches. Following retirements from matches at the French Open in 2005 and 2006, he withdrew midway through his 2007 Wimbledon semifinal against Rafael Nadal. He added an Australian Open retirement to the list when as defending champ in 2009, he withdrew in the fourth set of his quarterfinal against Andy Roddick with heat exhaustion. Thankfully for the Serb, a US Open retirement has yet to occur.
5. Andy Roddick refuses to play in Dubai
Taking it up a notch in the controversy stakes is Andy Roddick, who withdrew from the 2009 Dubai tournament in protest of the United Arab Emirates’ decision to deny Israeli player Shahar Peer a visa to play in the previous week’s women’s event. Following the uproar and bad press surrounding the decision, Israeli men’s doubles player Andy Ram was granted a visa to contest the tournament Roddick refused to play. In 2010, the UAE allowed Peer entry into the country, after the WTA had threatened to strip Dubai of its tournament status if Peer was again prevented from playing. Peer went on to reach the semifinals under heavy guard on a zoned-off court.
4. Bogomolov Jr retires on match point
Having played for five sets, retiring when your opponent – a French player no less – has match point in front of a packed stadium at Roland Garros seems like the most inflammatory thing a player could ever do on a tennis court. And that’s exactly what Alex Bogomolov Jr did against Arnaud Clement in the first round of the 2012 French Open. Behind 6-2 3-6 4-6 7-6 (7-2) 5-4 and serving at match point down, the Russian decided he’d had enough. “I got cramps and I retired. My whole leg was straight. I couldn’t bend it. I couldn’t walk. I didn’t want to risk a potential ligament damage or something. And you can’t get a trainer for that,” he explained. Why he chose that particular moment to retire, nobody will ever know. But it certainly didn’t go down well with the Parisian crowd, who whistled and jeered so venomously that Clement himself had to ask them to calm down.
3. Williams sisters boycott Indian Wells
When Venus Williams pulled out of her scheduled semifinal with sister Serena at Indian Wells in 2001 four minutes before they were meant to go on court, the packed night session crowd was not happy. And they voiced their displeasure vociferously when Serena took to the court for the final against Kim Clijsters, booing Williams throughout the match and cheering loudly for the Belgian. The jeers became especially intense when Venus and father Richard entered the stadium (see second video), with the crowd reportedly slinging racist insults at the pair as they walked down the aisle to the players’ box to watch the match. Serena won the match – celebrating with her family amid more boos – and the sisters have never again returned to the tournament, despite its mandatory status on the tennis calendar.
2. Monica Seles skips Wimbledon in 1991
Thoroughly dominating the game at this point, Monica Seles found herself halfway to a Grand Slam after winning the Australian and French Opens. Then, mysteriously, she decided to withdraw from Wimbledon just prior to the tournament, costing herself a shot at tennis immortality. According to the New York Times’ Robin Finn: “This was the first time in Wimbledon’s history, which dates to 1877, that any top-seeded singles player, male or female, had withdrawn from contention after the draw had been determined. The announcement was delivered under circumstances that verged on the Hitchcockian. Neither Seles, who was ranked No.1 in the world, nor her agent, Stephanie Tolleson of the International Management Group, would elaborate on the player’s injury or explain how or where it occurred. And (WTA) officials insisted that they had not been informed as to the specific cause for the abrupt withdrawal either.” Seles went on to win the 1991 US Open, but would never win a calendar year Grand Slam.
1. Henin retires from Australian Open 2006 final
Possibly the most sensational retirement in tennis history, Justine Henin retired when trailing Amelie Mauresmo by a set and 2-0 in the women’s final of the 2006 Australian Open. Despite looking out-of-sorts throughout the match, nothing suggested a major ailment that would force her to pull the pin in such an important match against an opponent notorious for getting tight on the biggest stage. Yet citing a reaction to anti-inflammatory medications, she ended her bid, denying Mauresmo a chance to experience the feeling of winning match point. A frosty relationship between the pair ensued. Mauresmo did get her chance to experience Grand Slam glory in the traditional way just six months later at Wimbledon – appropriately, perhaps, against Henin – while the Belgian’s reputation, normally one of a gritty fighter, arguably never recovered.
The ideas expressed in this article are those of the author, not Tennis Australia.