x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Wimbledon: Withdrawals the topic as players fall on slippery courts

Victoria Azarenka calls out the condition of the courts as several players pull out of the tournament, citing playing injuries.

Maria Sharapova is attended by a physiotherapist during her second round match against Michelle Larcher de Brito. Sharapova would play on but lose to the Portuguese qualifier.
Maria Sharapova is attended by a physiotherapist during her second round match against Michelle Larcher de Brito. Sharapova would play on but lose to the Portuguese qualifier.

LONDON // Victoria Azarenka called on Wimbledon organisers to examine the state of the courts after joining a growing list of players to withdraw because of injury on what one player on Wednesday called "a very black day" at the grass-court grand slam.

The second-seeded Belarussian took a bad fall in her first-round match on Monday on what she called a slippery Court 1 and her knee failed to recover in time for yesterday's match against Flavia Pennetta.

She was one of eight players to pull out so far.

"I don't know if it's the court or the weather I can't figure it out it," said Azarenka, who joined John Isner, Marin Cilic, Radek Stepanek, Steve Darcis, Guido Pella, Philipp Kohlschreiber, the German No 16 seed, and Romina Oprandi in cutting short their Wimbledon campaign.

"It would be great if the [All England] club or somebody who takes care of the court just would examine or try to find an issue so that wouldn't happen.

"There is nothing I've done wrong that cost me to just withdraw from Wimbledon."

It is the first edition of the tournament since the retirement of the long-time head groundsman Eddie Seaward, but a Wimbledon spokesman said there was nothing different about the courts this year.

"The surfaces at the start are always lusher than at the end," he said. "We have not changed the way the courts have been prepared or watered."

Isner, the American No 18 seed, and the 10th-seeded Cilic pulled out with knee injuries, while Belgium's Darcis, who stunned Rafael Nadal in the first round, withdrew with a shoulder problem and the Czech Stepanek had trouble with his left hamstring.

"I would say it's been a very black day," Cilic said. "It's difficult to say what the explanation is".

He conceded he had been feeling pain in his knees for much of the grass-court season.

While Darcis sustained his shoulder injury after falling in the first set of his match against Nadal on Monday, Cilic did not actually take a tumble.

"It's more because of, obviously, much lower bounces, putting more pressure on my body and my knees, as I'm pretty tall," the Croatian said.

"It also has a difficulty on movement. It's a bit tougher to move on grass than other surfaces."

On Tuesday, the Argentine Pella was carried off court on a stretcher after a nasty fall and Switzerland's Oprandi was also injured.

Kohlschreiber ascribed his retirement in the fifth set of his first-round match to fatigue.

A slip also appeared to affect the former world No 1 Caroline Wozniacki, who looked in discomfort after falling in the first set of her second-round match with Petra Cetkovska.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the men's No 6 side, took a tumble in the second set of his match, had his left knee taped before he continued, but eventually withdrew.

Azarenka, who lay on the ground screaming in agony on Monday after almost doing the splits behind the baseline, played for most of the second set of her first match in obvious pain and with her knee heavily strapped.

Asked if she thought the courts were different to past years, the Belarussian replied: "I'm wondering the same question because the court was not in a very good condition that day.

"I mean, my opponent fell twice, I fell badly, [and] there were some other people who fell after."

It was unclear whether the conditions, surface or coincidence could explain the flurry of injuries.

Nick Bollettieri, the veteran American coach, was stunned by the pace of withdrawals.

"I've been to many grand slams and have not seen so many people pull out," Bollettieri told the BBC.

"These are big pull-outs, too. It is unbelievable.

"Grass is going to be a topic of conversation. You just don't have these many injuries happening."

Azarenka showed she had not lost her sense of humour, when she was asked if grass courts are her greatest fear.

"My biggest fear is heights, not grass court or anything else. And spiders," she said.


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