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Wait … why is everyone forfeiting at the Haikou Challenge?

We hope you didn’t set your alarms last night.

Hope you didn’t plan on staying up for Trevor Crabb and Theo Brunner’s second round match of pool at the Haikou Challenge against Switzerland’s Adrian Heidrich and Leo Dillier. Or Chase Budinger and Miles Evans’ second rounder against Switzerland’s Marco Krattiger and Florian Breer an hour later. Or Poland vs. Italy at the same time.

It’s more than possible you’re wondering what has happened in Haikou.

Why all the forfeits? Dehydration? Food poisoning? A strange rash of injuries, all to teams who won their first round of pool… all coming in the second round?

It’d be a curious coincidence.

It is not.

Forfeits in the second round of pool play, from teams who have won their first round — this happens exclusively on the men’s side — in Challenge events have been somewhat common for much of the year. As the season has progressed, however, they have become rampant, for a multitude of reasons.

The most important is a perceived lack of incentive in the second round.

In the modified pool play format in which Challenges are played, if a team wins its first round match, their second round does not impact where they will begin the ensuing playoff rounds: both the winner and loser of that match will be seeded into the ninth-place rounds of the playoffs. In theory, should you win your second round and, by extension, win pool, your seeding will be improved. Rather than play a team who finished second in pool, you’ll play a lower-seeded second-place team or a third place team, potentially even one coming out of a lucky loser match earlier that day.

To this, many men’s teams are simply beginning to shrug.

Two weeks ago, in Goa, India, Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk won their first round of pool and forfeited their second. Both had been battling stomach ailments picked up in Mexico, and while they were obviously healthy enough to win their first round, the incentive of winning the second was not greater than the benefit they figured they could get from forfeiting and resting instead. Goa, according to half a dozen players who competed, was also some of the hottest conditions in which many of them have played.

After a brief cost-benefit analysis, winning in the second round was not worth the toll. That cost-benefit analysis proved spot on: Bourne and Schalk drew an Austrian qualifier team; Portugal, the beneficiaries of the forfeit, drew fourth-seeded Australians, Zach Schubert and Thomas Hodges. Portugal fell in the first round; Bourne and Schalk moved on.

Challenges are a different case than Elite16 events. The winners of pool in an Elite16 are rewarded with a crucial bye into the quarterfinals. The winners of pool in Challenges rarely stand to benefit.

In seven Challenge events this season, the winners of pool on the men’s side are 24-18 in the first round. For whatever reason, teams who have won pool in the previous three Challenges — Espinho, Edmonton, Goa — have fared especially poor: 11 first-round knockouts and just three total medals.

Contrast that to the beginning of the season, when pool winners claimed 10 medals in the first four Challenges — in La Paz, Itapema, Saquarema, and Jurmala — and swept the podiums in Itapema and Jurmala.

With more than a dozen tournaments on the legs of nearly every team at this point — as well as nearly six figures, in some cases, of airline miles piled up — forfeiting rather than playing an hour-long match in the upper-80-degree heat and resting instead seems to be the preferred option of a number of men’s teams. With three forfeits on Thursday (Friday in Haikou), the total for the season is now at 10. Such is the somewhat strange reward teams are giving themselves for winning their first round.

And, in Haikou, every USA men’s team won their first round. Theo Brunner and Trevor Crabb swept Spain’s Alejandro Huerta and Javier Huerta (21-17, 21-12), Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk swept Lithuania’s Patrikas Stankevicius and Audrius Knasas (22-20, 21-15), Chase Budinger and Miles Evans swept France’s Olivier Barthelemy and Samuel Cattet (21-15, 21-16), and Tim Brewster and Kyle Friend beat China’s Likejiang Ha and Jiaxin Wu (21-18, 18-21, 17-15).

Brunner and Crabb, and Budinger and Evans, both won their second round via forfeits. Bourne and Schalk competed, beating Thailand’s Poravid Taovato and Pithak Tipjan (18-21, 21-14, 15-9). Brewster and Friend also played out their second, dropping to Goa bronze medalists Javier Bello and Joaquin Bello (16-21, 19-21).

The only USA team remaining for the women, Corinne Quiggle and Sarah Schermerhorn, went undefeated, upsetting Spain’s Tania Moreno and Daniela Alvarez (19-21, 21-18, 15-13) and China’s Kadeliye Halaiti and Jingzhe Wang (16-21, 21-17, 15-7).