ridiculous rule I'm surprised it's not done for the singles, yet...
Roger Federer and Co. face a health threat in the ATP's war against 'tanking'
Federer, Andy Roddick and Justine Henin are hardly likely to quit a tournament with a bogus injury, but the administrators might have created a bigger problem for every player with their new rule.
The year 2007 was a rough one. It will be remembered not only for its great tennis, new heroes and faces, a new generation of young women players, the rise of Serbian tennis and of course, more of the Roger Federer magic – but also by scandals, cocaine, gambling, match fixing, even rumours of player poisoning and what has been known for years as 'tanking'.
While tennis officials are trying to figure out how to handle all these problems that seem to have surfaced in one single year, 'tanking' has been around forever in tennis – and until now a true solution has never been found.
However, a few months ago, the ATP announced that they had finally taken the first step towards finding an answer to the problem. They have introduced a rule, only valid for doubles matches (men and women) to start with. It's called the "doubles withdrawal rule" and it is aimed at preventing players from giving up matches using false injury reasons to leave in time to get to another tournament.
And the rule is new for doubles because players 'tanking' matches is much more common in doubles than singles. It comes into effect from the second round in any tournament, no matter at what level. So a player who announces, during a match that he or she is injured and cannot continue, has two choices:
He/she can quit the match in the middle and lose all points and prize money accumulated in the tournament up to that stage (be it first round or final), or he/she can simply "tough it out" and keep playing to the end.
Sounds good? To all 'tankers' of the game out there, the new rule is just a small nuisance.
OK, so they won't be able to 'tank' the second round doubles match in a God-forsaken hole in Africa or South America to make it on time to the next first singles qualifying match in another God-forsaken hole around the globe or, in many cases, just to make it on time for a flight home when they have had enough.
To all genuine injured players during matches, the new rule is plain hell, not to mention a real health threat.
Only when the first lawsuit by a player who kept playing with a career threatening injury comes around, will tennis officials realise what a huge mistake they have made.
An Israeli player by the name of Sahar Steel was playing in a doubles match last week in a Future Tournament in Ramat Hasharon, Israel. He injured his back during the match and couldn't move. When he told the umpire he needed to quit, the umpire brought the referee on court.
The referee informed suffering and amazed Steel of the new rule, and Steel, unfortunately needing all the points and money he can get his racket on in his struggling career, had no choice. He and his poor partner kept playing (if you could call that playing) to the bitter end, and there is no need to mention that they never won another point.
If the rule was introduced to prevent matches losing their 'sporting value' then what happened on the court from then on was even worse than your usual 'tanking'. It became a farce. The fact that Steel has been having, in the last four years or more, severe back problems that even required minor surgery at one point didn't make any difference.
As far as the new rule goes, every player is a 'tanker' unless proven otherwise. The problem is a huge one on the men's and women's Tour and that's a fact. But is this latest rule really the answer?
I would like to think that 'tanking' isn't a problem among the elite players. I really can't see players like Federer, Andy Roddick or Justine Henin 'tanking' matches that they regard as "less important". In their eyes there is no such thing as a "not important" match.
They have more than money and ranking points on their minds, and that is reputation, and we only need to ask Nikolay Davydenko how fragile that can be. And as far as the lower ranks go? Tennis will have to find a way to trust players. It's as simple as that.
The philosophy behind every professional sport should be that the cheater will only cheat one player at the end of the day, and that is himself or herself.
Drugs and gambling are problems that can, and will, be dealt with by a hard hand or rule. 'Tanking' is based on trust and more than that – the respect that players give to themselves and their profession.