“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
So wrote Shakespeare in Romeo And Juliet. Right now, the tennis version of this question should really be, “What’s in an exo?” Is there anything more to results in an exhibition match than there really is? At what point should we take exhibition results and matches seriously?
These questions all came to me following watching Juan Martín del Potro lose to Simone Bolelli 7-6 6-4 at the Guinot – Mary Cohr exhibition in Paris. Del Potro, whose presence for this one match was uncertain until late yesterday due to a slight knee injury sustained in Madrid and fatigue from three consecutive tournaments, did not give his all in this match and some seemed to think that he should have done more and that his losing to World no 111 Bolelli meant more than it might.
A form indicator?
This raises an interesting question: do pre-Grand Slam exhibition tournaments mean anything to the results in the Grand Slam itself?
If so, shouldn’t Bernard Tomic have done better in Melbourne than his round-of-16 appearance? After all, Tomic won the AAMI Classic in Kooyong just before the Australian Open. Did it really give him more confidence going into the Australian Open than his Brisbane semi-final?
Asking the question is answering it. Absolutely not. The catalyst there was his great Brisbane performance.
Back to del Potro’s performance today. What can we draw from it? In my mind, absolutely nothing. Yes, he didn’t give much effort into this match. Yes, the World no 9 lost to a player ranked 102 positions below himself. Yes, he lost in straight sets to a player who mainly took part in smaller events and Challengers within the last weeks.
Does this mean that the Argentine will not have a good Roland Garros? Absolutely not! After all, Delpo wasn’t sure if he would take part in the exhibition at all as, like he admitted himself after today’s exhibition match, he was a bit tired (I will add: from winning Estoril, making the semi-finals in Madrid, and the round-of-16 in Rome, in three consecutive weeks). Furthermore, he is still recovering from a small knee injury he’s gotten in Madrid, which made him end the Rome Masters 1000 on not such a good note (although to World no 5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and obviously diminished by more than just the knee – he looked about to throw up at some point).
So Delpo went to the exho, did an act of presence, played cautiously as to not cause damage to his knee, and pleased the fans by taking the court. In my mind, that’s all there was to it. He lost to Bolelli, who did seem to give his 100% in the match. No biggie. The French Open starts in less than a week’s time and that’s what matters the most as far as del Potro’s concerned.
As far as exhibitions go
Exhibition tournaments, by essence, are tune-up events, without any real signification. Of course, the royalties given the players for their taking part in those events are welcome money, but they are mostly a show. So close to a Grand Slam, they should never be taken as a form indicator for any player, especially top players.
No player would want to risk an injury playing an exhibition tournament mere days prior to a Grand Slam or a Masters 1000 event. If the player is known to have suffered an injury prior to said exhibition, it’s almost assured, if he still takes part in it, that he will make the minimal efforts in the match he is to take part in, if he goes at all.
There are, of course, exceptions to the rule, like Andy Roddick who managed to defeat Roger Federer in this exhibition match in New York days before the start of Indian Wells. Sure thing, Federer won the Californian event, but this exo win gave Roddick a lot of confidence facing his old rival. So much so that he finally nudged a win out of the Swiss in Miami a couple of weeks later. Although this win came with a price, as he gave his all to get it and ended up injuring himself and missing over a month of activity.
However, this is an exception to the exhibition rule. In my mind, exhibition tournaments should never be taken seriously as far as results are concerned.
What’s in an exo? That which we call non-competitive tennis
By any other name would count as little.