Novak Djokovic and Stanislas Wawrinka emerged from the fallen and broken bodies around them to contest the Rome Masters Series final yesterday.
In a season when the ATP has repeatedly come under fire for its scheduling of the clay court season, in particular, the Serbian third seed and Swiss No. 2 have found themselves left as the only men standing in the Italian capital.
The last three matches have all been decided by retirements leaving the victors well rested and the spectators frustrated.
Wawrinka spent only about 20 minutes on court in his semi-final before American sixth seed Andy Roddick succumbed to a back problem with the score at 3-0 in the first set.
Djokovic played for a bit longer but he was 6-0, 1-0 up against Radek Stepanek, who the previous day had eliminated Roger Federer, when the Czech decided he could not continue.
That came only about 18 hours after Djokovic’s quarter-final had been cut short, with him leading 6-1, 1-0, after Spaniard Nicolas Almagro decided his wrist was too painful to continue.
Some fans had paid up to 235 euros (US$363) for a center-court seat to watch the semi-finals. They saw only 10 one-sided games.
Just as Rafael Nadal had launched into the ATP, and in particular president Etienne de Villiers, for the schedule this year, Djokovic complained following his match.
“We are all trying to make this sport more popular and better, we’re all working for the good of the sport,” he said.
“Especially the players at the top and the ones who are playing a lot of matches are not happy with the schedule this year,” Djokovic said. “That’s certainly a task to talk about because of the really tight schedule of the Masters Series events.”
“We’re all aware of the fact that the Olympics are making it even more difficult but this is something that we need to talk about in the future,” he said. “I’m not criticising anybody but it’s just very important to take care of the players because you don’t want to have these kind of situations at big events, the players retiring in the semi-finals and the quarter-finals after one set.”
“The stadium was not even full and suddenly one of the players retired so I don’t think the tournament director or the crowd or anybody wants to see that,” the Serb said.
Roddick, who had a long hard match against Tommy Robredo on Friday night before feeling a problem in his back, agreed with Djokovic that something needs to be done.
“I think it’s been a concern for a long time about maybe the lack of an off-season,” he said.
“But this isn’t new, this isn’t new that it’s a packed schedule. I don’t think we’re reinventing the wheel by saying that there’s a lot of injuries,” Roddick said.
“I’ve been pretty fortunate in my career not to have had any really long-term injuries but I’ve also been pretty responsible with how I select my schedule,” he said.
Yesterday’s final was due to see the third seed and Australian Open champion take on a player who will break into the world’s top 10 for the first time next week.