Once the rain became the top story during the second week, the theme dominating the first week of the US Open, the record number of retirements, slid into the background. But I decided to follow the trend through the junior championships to see if the numbers were similar, and they most certainly were not.
First, the numbers for the men's and women's singles draws. There were 10 men (correction: 11, with Tipsarevic's retirement in the quarterfinals) and four women who started a main draw singles match and did not complete it, which was not only a US Open record, but an Open Era Grand Slam record. I would guess that the men's side produced so many more due to the best-of-five format, where continuing seemed like too big a mountain to climb, but that's just speculation. (It would be interesting to see the statistics on the percentage of retirements when trailing in a match versus leading). It also should be noted that all of these retirements came in the first three rounds (the women also had two walkovers in the second round), so there were none in the second week.
For the juniors, the week started perfectly. In the first round, held over two days--Sunday and Monday--all 64 singles matches ended conventionally. Monday was the first day for doubles, and it brought the first retirement, when the team of Natalija Kostic and Ayaka Okuno retired, down 6-1, 3-0 to eventual champions Irina Khromacheva and Demi Schuurs. Then came two days of rain, and no junior matches were played. On Thursday, indoors at the Sound Shore Club in Port Chester, there was one retirement, when Jessica Pegula retired in her second round match with qualifier Su Jeong Jang with the score 0-6, 6-3, 1-0. Pegula had her thigh wrapped with ice after the match, and perhaps the fact that she would have to play a second match yet that evening if she had won that third set may have figured in her decision. But, as it turns out, that was the beginning and the end of the 2011 US Open junior championship retirements.
It's true that the girls doubles draw took a hit on Friday, when six teams received walkovers, most likely due to the prospect of three days without having a doubles match scheduled, although it should be noted there were no walkovers in the boys doubles draw.
I thought I was going to see the second singles retirement in singles on Friday, when No. 6 seed Yulia Putintseva cramped badly in the third set against Nicole Gibbs, but after treatment, Putintseva, known for her often confrontational and ultra-competitive demeanor, finished the match.
Those juniors who kept winning played an enormous amount of tennis on the last three days of the tournament, but still there were no additional breakdowns. The 94 boys matches in singles and doubles produced zero, none, not one, retirement or walkover. That is amazing, but I have no plausible explanation for it.
Is it fair to think the money the professionals receive, which is $19,000 even for a first round loss at the US Open, provides an incentive to play when not fully healthy? Is there so much money at stake in a career that professionals will not risk the slightest chance they could make the injury worse? Is the game at the highest level played with such sheer force and athleticism that it isn't possible to avoid injury, especially after a long hard court season?
I don't have any answers, but I do know the juniors, who are constantly being unfavorably compared to the pros, surpassed them in sheer toughness this time.