Why has the number of retirements increased at every slam since 1978? [Archive] - MensTennisForums.com

Why has the number of retirements increased at every slam since 1978?

RagingLamb
01-29-2012, 06:38 PM
This thread confirms what most of us have noticed:

It seems that as the years go by, more and more matches end with players retiring due to an injury (e.g. 12 at the USO last year).

I tried to look at the rate at which this happens at the slams.

The table below contains the number of retirements (and walk overs) at RG, USO and Wimbledon since 1978, and at AO since 1988 (corresponding to when AO's surface changed from grass to hard courts). There were very few walkovers, so most of these numbers represent retirements during the match:



Year AO RG Wim USO Average

1978 4 2 2 3
1979 1 1 7 3
1980 2 0 3 2
1981 3 0 2 2
1982 2 0 3 2
1983 3 4 1 3
1984 1 3 1 2
1985 0 0 3 1
1986 2 1 0 1
1987 1 0 1 1
1988 3 1 1 2 2
1989 2 0 0 3 1
1990 4 2 0 4 3
1991 1 6 1 5 3
1992 3 1 3 7 4
1993 2 0 3 7 3
1994 7 6 4 4 5
1995 3 2 3 4 3
1996 6 4 1 4 4
1997 5 5 2 4 4
1998 9 5 2 6 6
1999 3 3 2 7 4
2000 3 6 4 3 4
2001 2 6 6 3 4
2002 5 5 3 10 6
2003 9 7 4 5 6
2004 7 6 1 7 5
2005 6 5 4 4 5
2006 4 9 3 2 5
2007 6 8 4 7 6
2008 4 1 10 6 5
2009 4 6 7 4 5
2010 6 5 5 8 6
2011 6 3 6 12 7


I computed the correlation between years and number of retirements at each major, and got the following r-coefficients:

AO: 0.43 (p = 0.04)
RG: 0.59 (p = 0.0003)
Wim: 0.69 (p = 0.000054)
USO: 0.57 (p = 0.0005)

*See note below for more details about the stats.

This means that as the years increase, so do the number of retirements at every major.

I'd be interested to know why you guys think this is happening. Are the athletes playing harder? Is the schedule too busy?

Or do you think it has to do with the slowing of the surfaces (e.g. look at the numbers for Wimbledon)?

I don't think it's one factor by itself. For example, if it was just the slowing of surfaces, then why do we see the trend at RG as well? The consensus seems to be that RG was sped up over the years.

My guess is that the homogenization of the surfaces does have something to do with it, but so does the accompanying homogenization of playing styles. There seem to be an abundance of grinders these days. Tennis matches have become increasingly more physical, and the lengths of rallies seem to have increased.

It would be interesting to take a sample of wimbledon matches from the early 1990s and compare their lengths with recent wimbledons to see how they compare. But the ATPs duration values from the 90s don't seem reliable.

Anyhow, I'd like to hear why people think the number of retirements are increasing at the slams.
__________________________________________________ _______________

*Ideally I would have used an ANCOVA or a multiple regression, but I did not have the necessary software to do so.

Also, I computed for r-coefficients without correcting alpha. But even applying a bonferroni correction to alpha = 0.01 still leaves the RG, Wim, and USO correlations significant. The overall trend in the number of injuries across years is very clear.

I also compared the correlation coefficients using a z test and found no significant difference between these values.

justafanYYC
01-29-2012, 06:42 PM
I would be interested in a breakdown of how many of those retirements are early round matches.
In the 70s and 80s the early rounds weren't as competitive and didn't take as much of a toll on players. Now the tournament is a grind from the first point.

The matches between players ranked 10-50 are just wars.

fran70
01-29-2012, 09:02 PM
Very interesting stats Raging Lamb. And it`s even more curious considering that players are much better physical prepared than 15 years ago.

RagingLamb
01-29-2012, 11:12 PM
I would be interested in a breakdown of how many of those retirements are early round matches.
In the 70s and 80s the early rounds weren't as competitive and didn't take as much of a toll on players. Now the tournament is a grind from the first point.

The matches between players ranked 10-50 are just wars.

Interesting observation, I hadn't look at what rounds these injuries tended to occur. I'll try to go back and check.

But maybe that's another factor. Do you think tennis has become more competitive since the 70s and 80s?

Very interesting stats Raging Lamb. And it`s even more curious considering that players are much better physical prepared than 15 years ago.

I agree. I really think the change in surfaces and styles has something to do with this. I can't think of any other explanations.

Sunset of Age
01-30-2012, 12:29 AM
Finally a truly interesting matter to have a discussion on. :yeah:
Yep, I do think it has a LOT to do with 1) modern racket technology, adjustment to 2) homogenization of the courts, slowing down HC as much as speeding up clay, which 3) forces players to continuously play a long-lasting grinding baseline defensive game, as the obsolete S/V style is kind of "Suicide Solution" nowadays. Much tougher on the bod, as anyone should be able to notice.

leng jai
01-30-2012, 12:32 AM
Players these days are just clumsy and unco. Theres no need to concoct some far fetched conspiracy theories about moonballing and homogenization.

RagingLamb
01-30-2012, 12:52 AM
Finally a truly interesting matter to have a discussion on. :yeah:
Yep, I do think it has a LOT to do with 1) modern racket technology, adjustment to 2) homogenization of the courts, slowing down HC as much as speeding up clay, which 3) forces players to continuously play a long-lasting grinding baseline defensive game, as the obsolete S/V style is kind of "Suicide Solution" nowadays. Much tougher on the bod, as anyone should be able to notice.

Exactly. The ATP wants to attract more viewers, and they have. But the players are paying the price for it.

Snowwy
01-30-2012, 01:16 AM
I think there is only one reason for this. More prize money means players that are not quite healthy are going to play and get their money. To me, that is all there is to it.

v-money
01-30-2012, 01:57 AM
I would be interested in a breakdown of how many of those retirements are early round matches.
In the 70s and 80s the early rounds weren't as competitive and didn't take as much of a toll on players. Now the tournament is a grind from the first point.

The matches between players ranked 10-50 are just wars.

Interesting point. Just as a general observation, based of following the recent Grand Slams as an average tennis fan, I think a have indeed seen a good amount of retirements in early rounds. A lot of the time the retirement is not even due to an injury but rather lack of fitness from some qualifier or low ranked player. There have even been times that some of these guys have retired just to avoid an embracing score or because they could not compete at a high level. For example in 2010 AO, Gil retired to Ferrer, most likely to avoid a triple bagel. Nalbandian had a retirement like that against Berankis at last years AO, although he was carrying at injury( which he continued to play with for a few of the next tournaments.) Not everyone can be like Berlocq and endure a 6-0,6-0,6-2 thrashing to Djokovic.

I respect the ones that stick around and just let the match play out even if they are not going to compete. At this years AO R1: Greg Jones looked absolutely gassed after ~1.5 hours of tennis that was not even that physical. He probably could have retired somewhere in the fifth, but didn't add to the stats for this year. Some will tough out a match but in todays game even a few of the top players are quick to retire even if they could have let the opponent serve out the match. I'm not sure how many of those "preventative retirements" are genuine and which are there to protect one's ego. I also don't know about the history of tennis well and whether they had characters like this in other eras.

Nevertheless, I bet today's athletes do have more difficult playing conditions and styles and that does contribute to retirements, even if they are these "preventative retirements" or from a player not being in shape. The old timers did have longer schedules though and I wonder how much more difficult that made it.

justafanYYC
01-30-2012, 02:34 AM
Interesting observation, I hadn't look at what rounds these injuries tended to occur. I'll try to go back and check.

But maybe that's another factor. Do you think tennis has become more competitive since the 70s and 80s?



I agree. I really think the change in surfaces and styles has something to do with this. I can't think of any other explanations.

I think so. As an example look at Borg's road to his 3 GS finals (French, Wimbledon, US Open) in 1980. Did he play anyone until quarters? semis? Guys in the top 8 were guys like Solomon, Mayer and Fleming. There weren't any Tsongas or Berdychs, Del Potro etccc back then.

Hewitt =Legend
01-30-2012, 03:01 AM
Great work RagingLamb and you pretty much nailed it in your analysis mate.

Evolution of the physical game combined with surface homogenization leads to longer matches which in turn results in injury.

I mean you could write about 30,000 words on the topic but that is it in it's simplest explanation.

leng jai
01-30-2012, 03:06 AM
Stop over analyzing shit guys. I mean you have baffoons like Hass stepping on balls in the warm up and retiring which says it all. The modern day player is just a bumbling oaf and an accident waiting to happen.

Lurking
01-30-2012, 05:45 AM
I wonder how many of those retirements are down to a lack of fear about retiring.

duong
01-30-2012, 10:22 AM
I think there is only one reason for this. More prize money means players that are not quite healthy are going to play and get their money. To me, that is all there is to it.

I think that's one factor, and separating early rounds from the others would help to analyze that.

Remember Marcos Daniel walking on court against Nadal and then saying that he was injured but he has a family to feed ?

Generally speaking, I think that one factor of the increasing number of retirements and withdrawals in tennis has to do with the players being more careful at their body because more professional and being helped by a medical team : then when they feel during the match that they have a problem and they will make it worse by playing longer on this, they will stop.

Two or three years ago, I read an interview from a doctor in Roland-Garros who said that he saw less big injuries than in the past because players were now more careful at their body and stopped earlier : players in the past kept on until they got a big injury.

I think it would be interesting to compare the number of players having long-term injuries now and in the past : I'm not sure there are more now than in the 80s from my memories.

RagingLamb
01-30-2012, 01:43 PM
I think there is only one reason for this. More prize money means players that are not quite healthy are going to play and get their money. To me, that is all there is to it.

I agree, if the money is good enough, then it's probably worth it for some to take the risk. So you don't think that the tennis players of today are more injury prone due to the way the game has changed, just that they're more motivated to show up and cash in?


I think that's one factor, and separating early rounds from the others would help to analyze that.

Remember Marcos Daniel walking on court against Nadal and then saying that he was injured but he has a family to feed ?

Generally speaking, I think that one factor of the increasing number of retirements and withdrawals in tennis has to do with the players being more careful at their body because more professional and being helped by a medical team : then when they feel during the match that they have a problem and they will make it worse by playing longer on this, they will stop.

Two or three years ago, I read an interview from a doctor in Roland-Garros who said that he saw less big injuries than in the past because players were now more careful at their body and stopped earlier : players in the past kept on until they got a big injury.

I think it would be interesting to compare the number of players having long-term injuries now and in the past : I'm not sure there are more now than in the 80s from my memories.

That's an interesting way to look at it. So the higher number of retirements corresponds to a cautionary step to prevent serious injuries.

But does this mean that there are now more minor injuries that can become more serious later, or that the athletes are simply more cautious?

The latter would mean that the changes in surfaces, styles, etc. have not necessarily made the athletes of today more injury prone.

duong
01-30-2012, 02:09 PM
But does this mean that there are now more minor injuries that can become more serious later, or that the athletes are simply more cautious?

The Roland-Garros doctor's clearly suggested that it was because they are more cautious.

And I've heard that many of the top-100 players now have someone in their team to help them to prevent injuries.

The latter would mean that the changes in surfaces, styles, etc. have not necessarily made the athletes of today more injury prone.

I think they made it more injury prone,
but players being more physically prepared, it's not as visible as it would have been if players had kept on being quite "amateur" about that, having no physio/doctor with them and keeping on playing as long as they could without a big injury.

But this doctor's suggestion also makes it more difficult imo to interprete the "retirement" factor statistically as you want to do.

Besides, I think that this way of looking at things can also explain why there are many retirements and withdrawals in tournaments players don't like playing (Shanghai, Bercy). Of course some say that it's because "they are in the end of the year" but it's also quite clear that many players don't like to play in these mandatory tournaments.

Here you made a statistical analysis about the retirements in grand slams, and as Snowwy said, some low-ranked players may retire more frequently because they had a minor injury but wanted to get the check,

but as for the top-players my personal impression is that for them, there are less withdrawals in grand slams than in the past,
because they arrive perfectly prepared there : we speak about the "length of the season" but Djokovic and Nadal had a lot of time to prepare before Basel or the Masters cup, as much time for Djokovic and nearly as much time for Nadal as before 2012 season. Yet they arrived like "completely regenerated" for the first grand slam whereas they were a shadow of themselves for the end of the indoor season ; in my opinion, it looks more like a matter of motivation and preparation than a matter of "length of the season".

masterclass
01-30-2012, 04:23 PM
Finally a truly interesting matter to have a discussion on. :yeah:
Yep, I do think it has a LOT to do with 1) modern racket technology, adjustment to 2) homogenization of the courts, slowing down HC as much as speeding up clay, which 3) forces players to continuously play a long-lasting grinding baseline defensive game, as the obsolete S/V style is kind of "Suicide Solution" nowadays. Much tougher on the bod, as anyone should be able to notice.

Spot on. One can almost see the change points. In the mid-late 80's we transitioned from wood to non-wood racquets (we'll ignore Jimmy Connors T2000 chrome tubular steel racquet :) ). And we started to see an increase in the retirement/withdrawal numbers, probably due to the pressure on the people volleying at the net being passed with greater frequency, and forcing them to change directions, run more, stretch more, etc. However, this was compensated to some degree by the service improving (speed, win pct.), and the points being over faster, especially as players started using strings more conducive to power.

Then after a couple of years where points were not lasting more than 3 shots (think Sampras, Rafter, Ivanisevic) and where the women's game had attracted more viewers with longer rallies, slam and ATP authorities made a concerted effort to slow the courts down to compensate. I don't blame them, but I think they overdid it. Adjustments to the game really need to be minute and well-considered. This is why I appreciate someone like Mr. Federer being player president. I think he intuitively understands this and is cautious when it comes to making changes. You can make one or two small changes and then wait a bit and see how it affects the game. More drastic changes could seriously hurt the game. Changing Wimbledon has seriously hurt the serve and volley game, and the pendulum needs to swing back the other way by at minimum making the court lower bouncing instead of like a trampoline.

Another major consideration that came about the same time as the technological changes was the forced participation of top ranked players in Master's and 500 tournaments. Players like John McEnroe and tournament officials thought it would be beneficial to the game (drawing more spectators, and consequentially more money) to have the top players play each other more frequently, creating more "bitter" rivalries. In that sense, it was true. However, few stopped to consider the side effects. Mats Wilander, for all his "unusual or irrelevant" commentary, does make complete sense when he stated during the just concluded Nadal-Djokovic AO final that the top players are "playing each other too much". Prior to the 1990's, top players often didn't play each other till the slams. McEnroe played in the US, mostly on carpet and fast hard courts. Borg played mostly in Europe on clay and carpet. Vilas played in South America and Europe, etc. Once the master's tournaments came along, mostly as a result of the "Tennis at the Crossroads" release at the Hamilton Jordan parking lot press conference, the top men were required to play in a certain amount of tournaments by contract, to ensure that tournaments would have the name players to rely on for revenue (advertising, spectators, etc.). Again, all of this was a good idea in theory, but few stopped to think of the long term affects on top players constantly play each other. When you combine top players having to play each other, along with court surfaces being slowed down, along with playing styles changing to accommodate that, along with racquet/string changes you get high level competition forced to play at the highest level too frequently, resulting in too many points (more deuce games), and too many strokes.

Eventually, there was recognition of the health concerns, and an attempt made to compensate in 2007, reducing the Master's matches from best of 5 sets to best of 3 sets and size of draws in some tournaments. This helped to an extent, but has not been enough I don't think, to compensate for the slow surfaces and the fact that the top players are constantly playing each other, demanding the most from their bodies. More tournaments need surfaces similar to Paris-Bercy. Maybe they don't need to be quite as fast, but that's the idea. More variation would help, not homogenization.

Definitely the style we saw exhibited in the 2012 Australian Open, especially in the semifinals and finals by Mr. Nadal, Mr. Djokovic, and to some extent Mr. Murray, is the kind of game that leads to injuries. If they keep playing matches like this, I predict they won't last past Roland Garros, unless they take extended "recuperation" breaks. Last year, they barely lasted to the US Open and then collapsed. Mr. Federer was the only one of the top 4 to recover by the late fall, pretty much because of his playing style and astute scheduling.

Finally, maybe to a lesser extent, I believe the average age of players of players breaking into the top ranks has risen over the years. I would think that on average we will see more injuries from older players than younger. I think this is perhaps a bit cyclical also. As each generation of players get older and closer toward retirement they get injured more frequently and more seriously. One could also say this the other way. When players begin to suffer a higher frequency and severity of injuries, they consider retirement. I think that is perhaps why you see some higher numbers during each decade.

Perhaps we will only see change once a top players suffer career ending injuries during a major tournament and people will decide whether it's better to see top players play a bit less against each other for shorter matches, or for them not to play at all.

My initial suggestions:
1. Speed up Wimbledon some by making the bounce lower, speed up the slowest hard courts by repainting them with less grit. Leave the clay alone. Make some of the medium speed courts fast.
2. Require only 4 of the masters to be mandatory, instead of the current 8 of 9, or offer two sets of masters tournaments at the same time and keep the same number of mandatory (8) splitting up the players more.

As usual, please excuse the long post. :)

Respectfully,
masterclass