There is only one way to treat petulant players, such as Australia’s Bernard Tomic, who call for a medical time out to treat a fake injury expose them to public humiliation.
That is the theory of Bill Norris, the ATP’s former Director of Medical Services who spent 35 years patching up the broken and sore bodies of top players from Ken Rosewall and Arthur Ashe to Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Tomic was fined $15,000 by the International Tennis Federation on Thursday after admitting he was “bored” and had faked an injury during a listless first-round defeat at Wimbledon.
“This young man (Tomic) not trying in his match at Wimbledon is not a good thing,” Norris, who turns 75 next month, told Reuters in a telephone interview from his home in Boca Raton, Florida.
“If I got called out to court (and realised) some guy just wants to buy time, it is gamesmanship.
“I would say it out really loud so that the umpire and spectators could hear and say (to the player): ‘You called me out for this? That’s very unfair of you and it’s unfair to your opponent’.
“So I would embarrass the player.”
Tomic’s behaviour was condemned as “legal cheating” by his fellow Australian Pat Cash, and while it has created an uproar at Wimbledon, Norris felt that the rapport he had built up with the players allowed him to read them the riot act if they “misbehaved”.
“Over 35 years I had a unique relationship with the players. They were all like my children. And when they misbehaved, I would call them on it,” said Norris, who has been around professional athletes since the age of 12 after working with the medical team of the Pittsburg Pirates baseball team.
“That guy who has faked an injury, after the match he will have to face his peers in the locker room. He will have to face me. And they didn’t like that,” Norris said
“Hopefully the fine will set Tomic straight and he will not do that again. It’s certainly a lack of professionalism.”
So how often did he get called out to treat fake injuries?
“Very little. Very low percent of players have tried that.”
The amount of prize money on offer these days appears to have its downside as during this year’s championships, there were seven first-round retirements in the men’s draw.
Some players such as Martin Klizan and Alexandr Dolgopolov were criticised for taking to court for their matches against Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer respectively as it was clear from the outset they were too injured to finish.
The back-to-back retirements on Centre Court angered many fans but Norris felt the players could not be blamed for trying to earn a living when an “average career is probably five to six years”.
“In the early days the game wasn’t as physical as it is now. When I first started they played with wooden rackets so you had to have more finesse. We had some injuries for our time but we never had the rotator tears of the muscle,” said Norris, who added that injuries increased by 10 to 15 percent during his time on the tour from 1973 to 2008.
“Money is a motivator so a lot of players play in events when they should be recovering. You can’t help that.”
The worst injury seen this week, however, occurred mid match. American Bethanie Mattek-Sands howled in agony after she slipped and suffered a horrific knee injury during a second round match.
Norris, however, has seen worse.
“In 1975 New Zealander Jeff Simpson was playing doubles in an indoor tournament on carpet. He was playing at the net and he caught a smash into his neck,” recalled Norris, who has chronicled his life on the tour in the book ‘Pain, Set and Match’.
“The impact of that ball that hit Jeff’s neck threw him to the ground. When he fell, he hit his head and had a concussion. It also triggered a convulsion.
“Luckily I have a lot of emergency medical experience so I was able to resuscitate him and revive him. It was scary… and that was the worst one.”
In those days there was no time limit on medical time outs and hence, astonishingly, Simpson had a day off and came back to win the doubles title in Washington.
Norris, who now passes on his knowledge to juniors at the Evert Academy, feels rather than on-court injuries, the biggest threat to a player’s health is “heat illness”.
“We have to educate the kids at the academies from an early age to properly hydrate. Heat exhaustion is a killer,” added the grandfather of four.