In the fifteenth article of the series, the results on this website, displayed as statistics, answer the question:
WHAT IS A RETIREMENT?
A retirement happens when a player has to quit a match before the match is over due to injury or illness (the abbreviation rtd. is often shown in the draw). Retiring from a tennis match is something a lot of players have experienced at some point in their careers. Retiring from tennis matches is not a modern phenomenon. People have been doing it ever since Wimbledon 1877, when J. Lambert retired against L. Erskine in the second round of the first Grand Slam championship. However, nowadays it is more common than it once was. Back in the days before open tennis on the pro circuit, retirements and walkovers were very rare. World Championship Series tours (often with just two players competing for the title of pro champion) relied heavily on gate fees to generate income. The players had to provide a reliable service to the paying public, which meant they played many times with injuries. After playing a gruelling match, players often had to drive long distances late into the night to travel to the following night's venue during World Championship series tours. It was a hard life and there were some players, fresh from the amateur ranks, who found it very difficult to adjust to life on the pro circuit. People often cite the demands of modern tennis on the body for the reason there are more retirements nowadays than there once were. However, it is also worth mentioning that players in the pre-open era had no seats at changeovers, there was far less times spent between points in which to recover from the previous point and there were no tie breaks. At Grand Slams top men's singles players were usually involved in the men's doubles (then best of five no-tiebreak sets), which often meant playing two matches in a day even in the later stages of a tournament. Also, physios/doctors were not on hand to give players treatment at changeovers like they are today.
Since the start of this century, it has been highlighted on a number of occasions how many players have retired from the men's singles draw at Grand Slams. However, there was only one tournament before 2011 when the number of matches when a player retired reached double figures (10 at the 2002 U. S. Open). Factors such as heat exhaustion are more relevant at some tournaments than others. The Australian Open (on hard court) on a hot day is very different from a pleasant summer's day at Wimbledon (on grass). After a number of players suffered from the heat during day matches, the Australian introduced an extreme heat policy. Breathing may become more difficult when there is high humidity, such as there often is at the U. S. Open. Long rallies on clay at the French Open can lead to exhaustion in long matches. Although grass may be a cooler surface than the others, it has other problems that other court surfaces do not have. There is a risk of twisting an ankle on a slippery grass court after heavy rain or around dusk when the court is heavy with dew, though players are usually very adept at avoiding doing themselves serious harm. Steffi Graf's iconic nose was prone to suffering from a touch of hay fever on grass, a condition that can effect performance but very rarely causes a player to retire.
Below is a decade by decade analysis in the open era of the number of retirements from Grand Slam men's singles events. Also, there is the occasional walkover (listed as w/o in the draw). A walkover occurs when a player pulls out before the start of a match. Since lucky losers were introduced in the 1970s and first round walkovers ceased, nearly all walkovers have been due to injury. One of the most memorable retirements occured in the 1990 Australian Open final, when Stefan Edberg had to retire against Ivan Lendl in an isolated incidence of a retirement in a men's singles final. Frank Shields lost the 1931 Wimbledon final to Sidney Wood in an isolated incidence of a walkover men's final. The results show that the average number of retirements per event has more than doubled at every Grand Slam from the 1980s figure to the 2000s figure (though it should be pointed out that the Australian had smaller draws prior to 1988). The top average retirements per event in any decade is 5.5 (2000-09 at the French). A more detailed analysis of the 2000s shows there is no increase in retirements in the later part of the decade. At the Australian from 2000-04 there were 25 retirements and 26 from 2005-09. At the French there were 29 retirements in 2000-04 and 26 in 2005-09. At Wimbledon there were 18 retirements from 2000-04 and 25 from 2005-09. At the U. S. there were 27 retirements from 2000-04 and 22 from 2005-09. Overall that is 99 retirements from 2000-04 and 99 retirements from 2005-09. It may be that the number of retirements may not increase significantly from now on.
OPEN ERA RETIREMENTS DECADE BY DECADE AT GRAND SLAM MEN'S SINGLES EVENTS
AUSTRALIAN since 1980. In 1980-1 there were 64 players in the draw. From 1982-7 there were between 64 and 128 players in the draw (there was no event in 1986). From 1988 onwards there were 128 players in the draw.
1980-89 TOTAL 20 (Average 2.2 per event)
1990-99 TOTAL 41 (Average 4.1 per event)
2000-09 TOTAL 51 (Average 5.1 per event)
FRENCH since 1970. In 1972 there were less than 128 players in the draw. The French played best of three sets in early rounds from 1973-5.
1970-79 TOTAL 18 (Average 1.8 per event)
1980-89 TOTAL 20 (Average 2.0 per event)
1990-99 TOTAL 32 (Average 3.2 per event)
2000-09 TOTAL 55 (Average 5.5 per event)
WIMBLEDON since 1970.
1970-79 TOTAL 15 (Average 1.5 per event)
1980-89 TOTAL 9 (Average 0.9 per event)
1990-99 TOTAL 20 (Average 2.0 per event)
2000-09 TOTAL 43 (Average 4.3 per event)
U. S. since 1970. In 1970 there were 20 first round byes. The U. S. played best of three sets in early rounds from 1975-8.
1970-79 TOTAL 32 (Average 3.2 per event)
1980-89 TOTAL 20 (Average 2.0 per event)
1990-99 TOTAL 54 (Average 5.4 per event)
2000-09 TOTAL 49 (Average 4.9 per event)
GRAND SLAM MEN'S SINGLES WALKOVERS SINCE 1980
AUSTRALIAN 1980-89 2 1990-99 4 2000-09 1
FRENCH 1980-89 4 1990-99 2 2000-09 2
WIMBLEDON 1980-89 0 1990-99 2 2000-09 2
U. S. 1980-89 3 1990-99 3 2000-09 3