Another Wimbledon has come and gone and with it one more stab in the heart of sportsmanship and fair play. We must be honest and admit that what happens at Wimbledon, and indeed most other major tennis tournaments, bares little or no resemblance to the tournaments of yesteryear. This writer has been accused by close friends of having a slightly Corinthian approach to sport; and he is proud to admit that there is a semblance of truth in the accusation. Professional tennis has changed out of all recognition in the last forty years or so. In 1973 the winner of the gentleman’s title was awarded $7,000 in prize money, while the ladies champion got five thousand. We should applaud the fact that the prize money is now equal with each winner being awarded 2.2 million. However, there are deeper issues to talk about.
This year at Wimbledon, seven players withdrew during matches in the first round complaining of injury but were nonetheless paid $44,000 each for walking on the court. There is a growing sense of opinion that some of them had no intention of playing a full match. If that is the case, then the insult to tennis fans that already pay overinflated prices to watch the game is very profound and an outrageous act of cynicism by the players. One player, Bernard Tomic a 24 year old Australian who lost his first round game to Mischa Zverev in straight sets and then admitted during the post-match press conference to being bored during the game, of lacking motivation and “respect for the game of tennis”. There is nothing like disrespecting your opponent, the spectators and the game to lose friends and gain enemies. He also admitted to taking an injury timeout as a tactical move to try and unnerve his opponent. Tomic was issued a fine of $15,000, still leaving him with a $29,000 pay-packet. He should never be invited to play at Wimbledon again. Tomic isn’t the only player to incur a fine as Daniil Medvedev was handed a fine totaling $14,500 for throwing coins at the umpires chair for accusations of bias following a series of disputes after he lost in 5 sets. Another player, Adrian Mannario was fined a total of $19,725 for incidents in two different games including barging into a ball boy.
The amount of fines issues by Wimbledon appears to be on the rise, from $62,500 in 2015 to $93,500 in 2016, with the 2017 total expected to increase further-at the time of writing the totals have not been released. In just the first three days of this year’s championships a total of $33,500 (£25,900) in fines has been handed out for unsportsmanlike conduct.
To prevent this, some have argued for harsher fines to deter the players from behaving badly. Get on with it. There is a particular aroma emanating from Wimbledon these days, and it’s not the fresh strawberries.
Everything has changed at Wimbledon; the tennis, the money, the players, the fans all in equal messure. Massive quantities of alcohol were consumed- fans ejected, Police called amidst general boorish behavior. Crowds used to be generally well-behaved and fair-minded; they have become rowdy, badly behaved and raucous. We have not arrived the same situation has at football matches with chants, finger pointing, abuse at officials and projectiles being hurled, however, this writer feels it’s only a matter of time.
There was a great quarter-final match-up between Britain’s Jonna Konta and the splendid Romanian player Simona Halep. The game was at match point, the third set was hard-fought and totally engrossing; during a rally, a women in the crowd omitted what can only been called a primeval scream. The Romanian player was so distracted that she lost concentration and struck the ball ineffectually into the net. We could, and should, give the spectator the benefit of the doubt and claim that she was lost in the moment and got carried away by the drama. However, many people have claimed that it was a deliberant act and another example of the erosion of sportsmanship.
Whatever our thoughts on the woman’s behavior, shouldn’t the point have been replayed? In the not too distant past it would have been replayed in the spirit of the game. That would have been the sporting thing to do. Both the umpire and the British player on the other side of the net should be asking themselves that question. The reaction to the women’s scream clearly displays the win at all costs attitude at Wimbledon. The women should have been identified and removed immediately, ejected from this year’s tournament and banned for years. We can presuppose that will not be the case.
Whilst there is much to disappoint in world of tennis these days-grunting, clenching of fists in triumph, snarling and grimacing of faces in defeat all spring to mind. This year’s respective male and female winners provided us with a certain sense of civility. Roger Federer won his eighth championship with elegance and style, even when confronted with more powerful and younger men. Not only was he gracious in victory, he displayed wonderful sportsmanship and, dare I say it, a certain feeling of statesmanship?
Garbiñe Muguruza won the ladies championship and also was gracious in victory. She beat Venus Williams, another well-known power player, with shots of such sumptuousness and deftness as to be breathtaking. We had two worthy champions this year.
Despite living in a different sporting world and all the changes happening within it, there is still much to admire; this writer will continue to look at sport through rose coloured glasses. After all what else have we got? Possibly I’m being a wee bit too hard on the modern game? I don’t wish to pretend that all was rosy in the Wimbledon gardens of yesteryear. We must never forget the ugly arguments and childish tantrums displayed by Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe decades ago.
Tennis can still be a thrilling sport and Wimbledon will remain a great arena. However, I fear that it will never be the home of honest sportsmanship ever again. And that is sad.