Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic Drop out of Pre-Wimbledon Events. As Usual, Promises Broken for Tennis Fans

Gerry Weber Open ticket promo

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?

Tennis fans are screwed again. Let’s call it what it is: Federer, who signed a contract to play in Halle, and knew tickets were being sold based on his name, just didn’t feel like playing. He had overscheduled this spring and been talking about his exhaustion during the French Open. Then, he went all the way to the finals before losing to Rafael Nadal, wearing out in the fourth set.

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.

Tender groin?

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.

About gregcouch

I can talk tennis all day long, and often do. And yet some of the people I talk to about it might rather I talk about something else. Or with someone else. That’s how it is with tennis, right? Sort of an addiction. Sort of a high. I am a national columnist at and a FoxSports1 TV insider, and have been a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. In 2010, I was the only American sports writer to cover the full two weeks of all four majors, and also to cover each of the U.S. Masters series events. I’ve seen a lot of tennis, talked with a lot of players, coaches, agents. I watched from a few rows behind the line judge as Serena rolled her foot onto the baseline for the footfault, a good call, at the 2009 U.S. Open. I sat forever watching a John Isner marathon, leaving for Wimbledon village to watch an England World Cup soccer game at a pub and then returning for hours of Isner, sitting a few feet from his wrecked coach. I got to see Novak Djokovic and Robin Soderling joke around on a practice court on the middle Sunday at Wimbledon, placing a small wager on a tiebreaker. Djokovic won, and Soderling pulled a bill out of his wallet, crumpled it into his fist and threw it at Djokovic, who unwadded it, kissed it, and told me, “My work is done here.’’ And when Rafael Nadal won the French Open in 2010, I finished my column, walked back out onto the court, and filled an empty tic tac container with the red clay. I’m looking at it right now. Well, I don’t always see the game the same way others do. I can be hard on tennis, particularly on the characters in suits running it. Tennis has no less scandal and dirt than any other game. Yet somehow, it seems to be covered up, usually from an incredible web of conflicts of interest. I promise to always tell the truth as I see it. Of course, I would appreciate it if you’d let me know when I’m wrong. I love sports arguments and hope to be in a few of them with you here. Personal info: One-handed backhand, serve-and-volleyer. View all posts by gregcouch

20 responses to “Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic Drop out of Pre-Wimbledon Events. As Usual, Promises Broken for Tennis Fans

  • sissi

    ” 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.”

    What does this passage mean mr Couch, i don’t understand or is it another one of your ways to always insult Serena? i mean she’s your favorite scapegoat right?

    • gregcouch

      It comes at the end of a column in which I say that tennis fans are subjected to a bait-and-switch. The words at the end are the exact same words I mentioned earlier in the column when I gave an example of how the tennis industry technically gets away with defrauding the fans. The column is all about how the tennis industry advertises and sells things to fans then gets out of coming through with its promises. The way it does that, I wrote, is through these little BS disclaimers. So I made a promise that Serena would write the column tomorrow, and then gave a little BS disclaimer — the exact same one tennis tournaments give, as I had noted — to say she might not actually do it (which, of course, she won’t.) Also, I have complimented Serena equally as much as I have pointed out her negatives. I’m not sure what I have scapegoated her for, but if you can come up with an example, I’d appreciate hearing it. Thanks for writing.

  • Javier Cervantes

    If Ralf Weber doesn’t make a big stink does this article get written? I think you need to expect that certain players may withdraw from events prior to majors and the short stretch between RG and Wimbledon makes this week all the more vulnerable.

    If I’m Federer I say Gut tschüs to Weber after his little rant and see how his tournament does for the next few years.

    If I am a ticket buyer, yes I am upset but it comes with the territory. How about buying NBA tickets in October to see say Steve Nash or Lebron in January or February and then have them scratched day before game? It’s happened to me. Or what about buying a day of game baseball ticket to see a certain pitcher and have them as a late scratch?

    Buyer beware.

  • sissi

    OK understood Mr Couch but you have quite a history of singling her out more than others and that isn’t right, she’s not evil like you sometimes want us to believe. When Clijsters talks about her lame radiation fears and skips the clay season i didn’t see one single article for your part bt when it’s her you’re more than happy to lambast her like your article about her twitter photo (sorry don’t mean to be rude but that was stupid, why are you interested in her personal life? aren’t you a tennis writer and only a sports writer?) When you tell us about her supposed “plastic surgery”, do you think it’s OK?
    what’s next? writing an article about who she sleeps with?

    • gregcouch

      The reason I don’t get into details of others in the same way I get into details about Serena — “singling her out” as you said — is because more people want to read about her. I mean, when stars do things, it is more newsworthy than when no-names do. That’s probably pretty blunt, but it’s true. And Serena has put so much of her personal side out in public, that yes, I don’t have any issue writing about things beyond what grip she uses on her serve. I wrote a column — as several people did — about Sharapova being a Chernobyl baby, with her thoughts on the radiation problems in Japan. You might disagree, but I believe that’s within the bounds of what I should be writing about. You will find sportswriters around the world writing about who athletes sleep with. (How many pictures have we seen of the women Tiger Woods was with?) In that case, no, I don’t write about it. I think a person’s sex life is private business. Yet I bet you know who Serena’s on-and-off boyfriend is, and I’ll bet you have read that from sports writers. Each writer has to draw the line where he thinks it should be drawn. Yes, I think Serena’s Twitter avatar was fair game. Maybe we just disagree on where the line should be.

  • sissi

    i don’t necessarily get your point about people wanting more to read about her. When you’re blaming her for something ( which is fine as long as you’re right), will you tell me you don’t talk about some other players who might have done the same fault because they’re not as famous as her? so in other words you only point the finger at her because she’s more renowned than those others? what you don’t get is that those who read your article believe anything you write (when most of the time it is just baseless assumptions) and they will also point the finger at her and forget that many others do the same.
    its not right, Clijsters gets away with her first retirement, her ridiculous radiation fears in order to not play in Asia this fall, hurts her foot in some bizarre circumstances and what do you write regarding this? NOTHING, when Serena does the same, she’s the worst individual and imposter that may exist.
    No wonder some say she’s your favorite scapegoat.

    • gregcouch

      Thanks again. First off, I’m glad you bring up the scapegoat thing. You think someone else is doing something wrong, but I’m blaming it on Serena instead of that person? I’m just asking you, please, to tell me who or what I’m scapegoating her for. As for singling her out, let me look at it from the other side. When Serena appeared nude (almost) on the cover of ESPN the Magazine, I wrote that she was a great role model to young girls in regard to body image. She showed that you don’t have to be a size 0 to be beautiful and successful. Now, did I write the same thing about everyone else who appeared in that magazine? No. Serena, in my opinion, is such a huge crossover personality and celebrity, going beyond her sport, that she stands out to me. Same with the time I wrote a column saying she would be an ideal new model for what a Miss America should be: smart, beautiful, strong, successful, athletic, and, again, not a promotion of the size 0, which I think is dangerous to girls. Now, couldn’t I have said the same thing about a lot of women’s tennis players? I’m sorry, but it’s just reality of journalism that we write about the people want to read about or people care about. It’s not that we write ONLY about them, but moreso than others. As for baseless assumptions, consider a few things: Her agent told me on the phone that she was with Serena at the time and that Serena did not step on glass. Serena said she stepped on glass. If you were a journalist, would you not be suspicious right there? I asked some German reporters in Australia if they had ever checked into Serena’s story, talked to anyone at the restaurant. The three writers I talked to said that the German media had looked into the story and scrambled for it, but found nothing. They writers I talked to don’t think it happened. Also, Serena told USA Today that her doctor said she didn’t really have to have the foot surgery, that it would only be to stop from having a drooping toe. Later, she said the doctor said the surgery was mandatory. So I would say that she is bringing on the suspicions herself.

  • melanie

    Waouh Greg Couch, sorry for barging into your conversation with the reader Sissi, i REALLY take issue with what you’ve just said and i think my mate is right. So for you it’s ok to vilify Serena REPEATEDLY and not the others because people may want to read more about her. So i guess it’s ok to make her look like the bad guy here and give a free pass to the others? i understand when Sissi says that she’s your scapegoat, the one that you have no problem insulting all the time.
    besides you’re a tennis writer, do you think talking about her personal life like her nose or her panties has anything to do with her tennis performance and what you are supposed to write?
    i’m into journalism and i’m sorry to tell you that, but you’re bad at it right now, YOU’RE CROSSING THE LINE WAY TOO MUCH and that’s not i’ve been taught in school, not at all

    • gregcouch

      Look back at what I just wrote to sissi. It covers a lot of what you’re talking about. But I would ask you this, too, because I don’t understand the idea that I’m scapegoating her: Who or what do you think I’m scapegoating her for? Also, I disagree that I have even come close to crossing any lines. If your journalism school told you that tennis columnists should be writing only about tennis performance, then you are in serious need of finding a new journalism school. As for making Serena look like the bad guy while giving everyone else a free pass, take a look at the column that is now on top of this site, the one that says we get on Serena’s case for not showing up at non-majors, but really lots of players are doing it. Then, I single out, and write the whole column about, Roger Federer.

  • melanie

    Ok right Mr Couch, but we’ll happily to disagree then

  • sissi

    i think i told you that repeatedly, the Clijsters example, the fact that Sharapova and Federer almost NEVER play Fed Cup and Davis Cup but you are always criticizing Serena and her big sis. Those are among other examples. Greg I have absolutely No issue when you’re blaming her for something wrong but let’s give all the players the same treatment when they are as accountable as her. When you only the point the finger at her, that’s scapegoating for me

    • gregcouch

      I see what you’re saying. But you say I’m “always criticizing” the Williams sisters for not playing Fed Cup. I don’t think I’ve ever done that one time. In fact, what I’ve written is that Fed Cup isn’t really that important and there’s no reason the Williams sisters should have to play. I say that they have represented their country all around the world already on this tour, which is an international tour. My criticism about Serena and the Fed Cup is that she commits to playing, and then pulls out at the last minute. At the end of 2009, she told Fed Cup people on a Tuesday that she’d play. On Friday, she pulled out because she said she was too tired. Then, it turned out that she had a previously scheduled photo shoot that she made. In other words, she had no intention of playing when she gave her word to play. And it’s hard to believe that she was OK to play on Tuesday, but too tired on Friday. Her last-second pull-outs leave the team in a pinch. it’s so bad that the team has taken an extra player just in case Serena pulls out again, which she has. If Federer has done that, it would surprise me. But it’s roughly what he did this week in the tournament in Halle, and I wrote a column about it. You keep mentioning Clijsters, and I can’t remember for sure what I”ve written about her. But I think I did write that the radiation thing is ridiculous and that she isn’t into this sport any more. As for her injury, if she has a history of changing her story on injuries, then I should write about it. I’m not aware of that. Serena has changed her story on her foot injury, and she and her agent have told opposite stories. But it also comes down to what I said in the first place: On good things or bad, if Serena does it, it’s bigger than if someone else does it. When I first became a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times, I once was unsure about what to write. Someone gave me a rule of thumb: When in doubt, write the Bears. That’s what people read about most. In fact I once told a tennis writer, when in doubt, write Serena. If not her, write Roger or Rafa, or Venus.

  • sissi

    yeah Greg but what you’re saying it’s like you need to write about her to make a buzz on your blog, to make people interested, so you’ll find every detail of her to write about, i get it.
    But most of the time when you write about her apart from your supposed positive articles, you blow things out of proportion like the twitter background thing, it’s not nice, you kinda give her a bad image for something she’s not even really at fault.
    besides during the australian open, you talked more about her than the tournament itself in spite of her not playing, yes people are interested (well most of the time the haters who show up to make very nasty and racist jokes, a moderator will be helpful here lol lol lol) but how about giving more respect to those who are competing and earning their living on a court? It must be boring, i give you that, but it does help promote the sport and not just one individual, but all the personalities

    • gregcouch

      You are right. I love tennis and love all the characters. Maybe I’m being too blunt here, but in the media, you do write mostly about the athletes want to read about. Am I trying to create a buzz for my blog? I mean, that’s what news judgment is about for a columnist. That’s the business. Newspapers are writing to get readers, TV news is broadcasting to get viewers. I can tell you this: Last year when I was at Wimbledon for AOL FanHouse, I wrote an Andy Murray column that, if memory serves, got 13,000 hits. A few days later, I wrote a column saying it was an outrage that Serena was pushed to an outer court on the day the queen came to Centre Court. I think that one got 600,000 hits. I’m still going to write about Murray when good stories come up about him. I can do that even moreso here, on a tennis site, than in a mainstream media site. But all things being equal, which one would you write about?

  • sissi

    Of course you would want to write on the story which got more hits. but i guess i just wish there was a moderator here to kinda regulate what us ,the readers, say, in order for people to have a healthy debate and not nasty and mean talks.

  • roGER

    Hello Greg, I entirely agree with you on Serena, but completely disagree with you about Federer. He’s famous for “never” being injured, is known to spend plenty of time with fans and media, and he shows up for his tournaments.

    The problem with your article is the desire for ‘balance.’ Hey I’ve criticised Serena, so I guess I’d better balance that and mention some other players too.

    That may appear fair enough, but it isn’t fair enough when it’s a crooked balance.

    Comparing Serena William’s serial no-shows and hitting-the-ball-into-the-net-for-two-short-sets-then-flying-home ‘appearances’ to Roger Federer missing the tournament in Halle for the first time in nine (9) years is NOT a fair comparison. Every top player *may* do it, (I think may not) but what is 100% certain is that SOME players do it a hell of lot more than others.

    The truth of the matter is some tennis players are very reliable, and do their damndest to appear at the tournaments they have signed up for. Others, notably Serena Williams, are serial liars. She hasn’t played in 11 months, and prior to that took part in six (6) tournaments, including three glad slams.

    That’s the truth of the matter.

    No comparison.

  • Maxshade7

    I think something that wasnt mentioned is the scheduling. You’re expecting Rog whos 29 to right out of a major clay court tounament wheres hes played two 4 setters to just in 3 days + 2 weeks worth of clay court tennis to jump into a 3rd tier grass tournament? Not a chance. Lets face it the yearly schedule is grueling and doesnt allow for breaks. Especially between the French and Wimbledon. If I were Rog Id have done the same thing. Of course I wouldnt have signed a contract to do such a tournament but hindsight is 20/20. Maybe occurences like this will get the ATP and WTA to realize that a proper off season should be put into place so the athletes dont get so banged up that they cant uphold their responsibilites.

    • gregcouch

      I pretty much agree with you. Federer has been some sort of modern miracle with his ability to keep playing for years with very few injuries. He also has done an excellent job of scheduling over the years. But I don’t think the tours can expect to have Federer-type of longevity with its best players. Do you think Nadal’s body is going to hold up with this schedule? The problem is this: When do you have an offseason? It makes sense to do it right after the U.S. Open, but you’re trying to market your sport to Asia, and that would encroach on the Asian leg of the tour. I do think there are ways to make adjustments and create an offseason. And more importantly, I’m not sure these players should have so many mandatory events. All of that said, if I’m sympathetic to the demands of the schedule, I’m not sympathetic to players signing contracts, making commitment, allowing their names to go on posters and then not showing up. It’s too easy for them, and for tournament organizers, to screw fans.

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