Let’s do some math. Third-tier tickets (second-cheapest) to Friday’s quarterfinals at the Gerry Weber Open in Halle, Germany: 40 euros apiece, or $58 in U.S. money. Take your spouse and two kids, four tickets: $232. Parking, incidentals, meals, snacks, transportation, souvenirs? Let’s say the whole day together, if you’re lucky: $400.
But what the heck, it’s a fun day and Roger Federer is going to play. All the ads have said so for weeks. That’s something special to see.
On Monday, though, Federer withdrew from the tournament, citing a tender groin and fatigue. Really? A tender groin?
OK, fine. He was tired. He has to do what’s best for his chances at Wimbledon, and he doesn’t think that means playing this week’s tournament. But what about the poor guy who made a decision with his discretionary funds in a bad economy? Four-hundred bucks to see Roger Federer.
Look, we have jumped all over Serena Williams for faking injuries in the past to avoid playing in non-majors after tickets have been sold to see her. She also has shown up at non-majors, such as Cincinnati in 2009, and not even tried in front of fans who had paid.
Well, how is that different from Federer pulling out of Halle? How is it different from Novak Djokovic pulling out of Queen’s Club this week because he’s tired? Tired? Did you know you might be tired when you entered the tournament? When officials started selling tickets?
The tour requires you to go to some tournaments, such as Cincy, and others you choose to go to, such as Halle and Queen’s Club. But either way, the fans buy tickets on a promise that’s not kept.
“I am stunned,’’ Halle tournament director Ralf Weber told the German media. “Our plans for the past year have been nearly exclusively with Roger appearing. He never gave us any doubts that he had health problems. I clearly expressed my disappointment to his management. . .We expect that this lifetime contract will be fulfilled in person, and not just a declaration of intent.’’
This isn’t to single out Federer. Every top player does it. For all I know, Federer does it less than others. In fact, he has played the Halle tournament nine times, so maybe fans can accept that he really does feel bad about this.
But these drop-out are so common that no one pays any attention when it happens. I understand the players have to do what’s right for them to be best prepared for majors, and Wimbledon is only days away. But this is no way to treat fans. They have no one to speak up for them, no power in the equation. It’s like fraud. Sure, most, or maybe all, tournaments advertise which players are coming, and then have tiny disclaimers on their posters. Earlier this year, an exhibition in Oregon that was supposed to feature Federer, Rafael Nadal, Williams and Maria Sharapova had this in tiny print:
“Under certain circumstances, it is possible that one or more of the advertised athletes will not be able to participate in the NIKE Clash of Champions.’’
So yes, tournaments are able to cover their butts legally. But using technicalities to get away with a bait and switch is no way to treat a sport’s fans.
And if you buy a ticket, and see that disclaimer, you should be able to assume it is saying that if a player is seriously hurt, he’s not coming. Any fan would understand and accept that.
Frankly, I think players should be able to do what’s right to prepare for majors. That still doesn’t change the fact that they made a commitment to tournaments, who made a commitment to fans.
What do the fans get out of this, other than disappointment this year and disincentive to buy tickets next year? That’s probably why tourney officials were so upset. If Federer is under contract next year, the who is going to believe?
Maybe the tournament should offered fans half their money back, plus half off next year’s tickets.
I’m not really sure. What I do know is that some fans surely thought they had bought tickets to see Lleyton Hewitt play Federer in the first round. Instead, they got Hewitt and Leonardo Mayer.
Well, check back here tomorrow because, in big news for this site, Serena Williams will write the next column in this space, giving all the true details, including pictures, of her foot injury last year.*
* Under certain circumstances, the advertised writer of this column will not do it.