With­drawals a bad look for Clas­sic

Marlborough Express - - FRONT PAGE -

Once again the big news at the be­gin­ning of the men’s ASB Clas­sic wasn’t about the first round re­sults or the prospect of thrilling match ups ahead, but on play­ers pulling out.

Gael Mon­fils, Roberto Bautista Agut and To­mas Berdych have all with­drawn, rob­bing the event of three of its big­gest stars.

But sadly this isn’t a one-off. Last year Kyle Ed­mund, Ryan Har­ri­son, Guido Pella and An­drey Rublev all did the same.

In 2017 Juan Martin del Potro, Tommy Ro­bredo and Bautista Agut did it and in 2015 it was the case with David Fer­rer, John Is­ner, Mon­fils, Ro­bredo and Jack Sock.

It’s hap­pened in the past and it will keep hap­pen­ing. The tour­na­ment’s strength, be­ing the week be­fore the Aus­tralian

Open, is also its weak­ness.

The fact is the Clas­sic is a warmup event for the first grand slam of the year, just as Lyon is for Roland Gar­ros, East­bourne is for Wim­ble­don and Win­stonsalem for the US Open.

For the past two years at East­bourne six play­ers pulled out be­fore the tour­na­ment be­gan each time.

There were six with­drawals at Lyon last year and seven at Win­ston-salem. So clearly the Clas­sic isn’t alone with this prob­lem.

It’s not a good look and the ATP fines play­ers for pulling out of tour­na­ments be­fore they be­gin, if they don’t turn up.

So, Bautista Agut, who won the tour­na­ment in Doha at the week­end, flew to New Zea­land and was at the venue yes­ter­day, to avoid be­ing fined.

This hap­pens reg­u­larly when play­ers pull out of the Clas­sic, they’ll turn up af­ter al­ready mak­ing the an­nounce­ment, spend a bit of time here, then take the short flight to Mel­bourne. So clearly the ATP’S deter­rent isn’t work­ing.

But how much can the play­ers re­ally be blamed? They’re look­ing to get a few matches un­der their belts be­fore the Aus­tralian Open to sharpen up and they don’t want to burn them­selves out be­fore play­ing in Mel­bourne.

Clas­sic tour­na­ment di­rec­tor Karl Budge has been go­ing af­ter the big four play­ers for years, without any suc­cess. They’re just not in­ter­ested in play­ing in the sec­ond week of the sea­son, even if some­one such as Andy Mur­ray got of­fered huge money to come this year.

For them, money isn’t much of a fac­tor and cer­tainly not com­pared to the prize of win­ning an­other grand slam.

With Mon­fils, it’s the third time he’s pulled out of play­ing in Auck­land and it’s easy to be crit­i­cal of him for his lat­est with­drawal.

How­ever, as was ev­i­dent in his press con­fer­ence, he was gut­ted about pulling out on Mon­day night. He knew his rep­u­ta­tion had been tar­nished in New Zea­land be­cause of pre­vi­ous no-shows and agreed to come to Auck­land early and not play a tour­na­ment in week one, just so there wouldn’t be any prob­lems this time.

Sadly there was, so he again won’t be play­ing, thanks to a thigh in­jury.

This wasn’t one of those in­juries where he felt a slight twinge and was over cau­tious ahead of the Aus­tralian Open. Mon­fils was to have an MRI scan in Auck­land yes­ter­day and doesn’t know if he’ll be able to play in Mel­bourne. So it is harsh to con­demn him.

How­ever, on the back of two other stars pulling out it does add to the dis­ap­point­ment.

So what can be done about no shows? Well, prob­a­bly noth­ing. This will keep hap­pen­ing all around the world, there is no so­lu­tion. It is – as they say – what it is.

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