Why putting a lucky loser in a Wimbledon semi-final would be bad for tennis | Simon Cambers
When Rafael Nadal announced on Thursday evening he would not be able to play Friday’s semi-final against Nick Kyrgios because of injury, it prompted a variety of feelings, from sadness for Nadal himself to disappointment that Wimbledon fans will be denied a great showpiece semi-final.
Nadal’s withdrawal because of an abdominal tear means Kyrgios gets a free pass through to his first grand slam singles final, giving him an extra couple of days of recovery before he plays either the six-time champion Novak Djokovic or Britain’s Cameron Norrie for the title.
For ticket holders, who have paid at least £200 (face value) for their Centre Court ticket on Friday, it’s an obvious disappointment. Organisers belatedly scheduled the two women’s doubles semi-finals either side of the Djokovic-Norrie match, but were only accepting requests for a full refund from ticket holders if they had contacted the club by midnight on Thursday.
The late withdrawal left people wondering aloud on social media whether Taylor Fritz, who lost out to Nadal in a final-set tie-break in the quarter-finals, should be given a path through to the last four.
Fritz, though, knocked down that suggestion on Friday, writing on Instagram: “Nah not looking for handouts, if I couldn’t beat him [Nadal] then I don’t deserve to be in the semis … simple as that.”
The current grand slam rules do not allow for Fritz to be put through in Nadal’s place once the tournament has completed the first round. A player who loses in qualifying (usually, but not always in the final round) can enter the main draw as a “lucky loser” when someone pulls out through injury or illness. But doing it again when the draw is beyond the first round means a player could theoretically win the title having lost twice, if they lost in qualifying and then again at some later stage.
In addition, if Fritz had been beaten easily by Nadal, rather than going all the way to the final set, sending him through to face Kyrgios would seem even more absurd.
Fritz is right. If he was not good enough to beat Nadal, he should not have gone through. And if you offer a possibility that someone can go through when they lose a match, it could also lead to a greater risk of match-fixing. As unlikely as it may sound, what would stop a pre-match favourite colluding with an opponent, losing a match deliberately, knowing the other player would pull out and allow them through?
Had Nadal known, as he was reaching the end of his match with Fritz, that he would not be able to play his semi-final, then he could have done what happens sometimes in junior tennis, when a player who is unable to play their next match, for whatever reason, reaches match point and then quits, handing their opponent victory.
The problem was that Nadal practised on Thursday, trying to give himself every chance to play, only to realise he would be doing himself more damage if he did.
“As everybody saw yesterday, I have been suffering with the pain in abdominal,” Nadal said at his hastily arranged press conference shortly after 7pm on Thursday. “I knew something was not OK there, as yesterday I said. That’s confirmed. I have a tear in the muscle. The communication is late because even like that I was thinking during the whole day about the decision to make.”