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LaRosa's Sweet Spot; Oct 8, 2008

10/8/2008 1:00:00 PM

LaRosa's Sweet Spot Main Page

Oct 8, 2008

The Spot ain't Sweet today folks, sorry. I'm spittin' nickels. And you can blame Marion Bartoli.

Down 1-6, 1-4 against surging Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova, Marion retired with a 'left toe injury,' preventing Dominika from that sweet satisfaction of downing her higher ranked foe.

Do I feel for Dominika specifically? No. In fact, it feels downright karmic as she retired match point down against a rallying Ai Sugiyama in Stanford. Like Joe Biden, let me say that again. 

Match point down. Retired. 

Can the massage wait until after match point?
Next to playing in the wind, late-match retirements are the bane of my tennis watching existence. And before I go any further, let me clarify by saying I don't mean simply retiring with an injury. I know from personal experience that tennis will break each and every part of you. If it's 1-3 in the first and after gamely trying to tough out a knee injury you find it's just getting worse, no one wants to watch you hobble for the next hour and risk crippling yourself for life. It's retiring with the other player on the verge of victory that really just honks me off.

In Barcelona this year, we had three players retire on the very first day. Wimbledon saw seven players retire in the first two days, tying an Open Era record. I'm not saying there weren't real injuries involved in any of these retirements, but more than one of them somehow managed to gut out two losing sets before saying, nah, no mas.

Gilles Simon retired in Estoril 2-6, 3-5 against Flavio Cipolla, citing a back injury. Novak Djokovic famously said 'uncle' in his highly anticipated Monte Carlo semifinal match against rival Roger Federer, when he retired feeling 'dizziness a little bit.'

The most famous no mas is the one Justine Henin flung in Amelie Mauresmo's face like monkey dung during the '06 Australian Open final. Justine is one of the greatest players of all time and no one can take anything away from all of her incredible incredible accomplishments. That said, she denied Amelie her hard fought and long-awaited Grand Slam allez moment four games from the finish line because of an upset stomach. To me, the asterisk next to the name in that match will always be Justine. One of the greatest players of all time*. 

The main excuse players give when retiring just inches from the finish line (besides being physically just incapable of lifting another finger) is the fans. They did it for the fans. If they can't play their best, why put the fans through the last few games. 

Let me tell you something, the fans want to see a match point. The fans want to see the other guy pump his fist. The fans want to see that the last hour of their lives wasn't wasted watching what amounted to a big fat unresolved nothing.

And let's be clear about this. No one is fooled. Leaving a match with just a couple games to go does not make anyone say, oh well what do you know, a tie! No. Ya lost. Not only did you lose the match, you lost face.

Retiring so late in the game is like walking out in the middle of a date. Like the Sopranos finale cutting to black. Seems like a good idea in theory, but it ultimately leaves you feeling used and abused and looking around going 'wait...what just happened..?'

I'm not singling out the aforementioned players (per se...), there seems to be a general understanding in the locker room, a bottom if you will for when it's okay to pack it up. Check out how many players retire a set and say 1-3 down. It's like a whistle blows Flintstones-style, "ah, it's quittin' time! Yabadabado!" And off the player goes sliding down the dinosaur's tail.

Again, are they all faking it? Of course not. But if you leave a match, I want to see you go out on a stretcher. I have a bad back. I know how it feels to not be able to move. That last point you played, Simon? You could at least stand. Ditto Marion with your toe injury. Ditto Dominika with your cramps (match point down!). Ditto Novak with your dizziness. Ditto Justine and your upset stomach. Stand there and let those last few balls fly by.

If your pride is so fragile, go ahead and call the trainer first. Call him a few times. Let the crowd in the stands and at home know you're not feeling so hot. So when they see you lose they won't assume you were having the best day. But finish the dang match. Show us what you're really made of.

You know how many times chronically crippled #1 Jelena Jankovic retired this year? Zero. Roger Federer? Zip. And this was a guy who lost in straight sets to Mardy Fish (love ya Mardy, but that had PR nightmare written all over it at 3-6, 1-4). Rafael Nadal? Nada. And he had plenty of chances in that 0-6, 1-6 drubbing by Mikhail Youzhny in the Chennai Open.

Honestly, I am so sick of this I can barely put it into wo--