Tennis Toughens Penalties for Weak First-Round Performances

WIMBLEDON, England — Anna Tatishvili’s tennis comeback appeared cruel even earlier than she took the court docket final month. After shedding 19 months of her profession to a persistent ankle harm, she returned on the French Open and discovered that she had drawn an opponent no person needed to face within the first spherical: the No. 29 seed, Maria Sakkari, who led the ladies’s tour with 12 clay-court wins heading into the event.

It was no shock then that Tatishvili misplaced badly, 6-Zero, 6-1. The shock got here the subsequent day when she went to gather her verify for showing within the first spherical.

She was directed to the top referee’s workplace, she mentioned, and knowledgeable that her fee of 46,000 euros, or about $51,500, was being withheld due to her poor efficiency.

“They didn’t even say hello to me; they mentioned, ‘Your account is frozen,’” mentioned Tatishvili, a 29-year-old American. “They talked to me like I’m some sort of prison or one thing. It was so disrespectful. I even cried.”

Four weeks later, at Wimbledon, Bernard Tomic was additionally fined the quantity of his prize cash — 45,000 kilos ($56,600) — after his 6-2, 6-1, 6-Four first-round loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Tomic and Tatishvili have been the primary gamers to lose 100 p.c of their pay for violating a coverage within the Grand Slam rule ebook, launched for the 2018 season, that requires gamers in first-round matches to “carry out to the required skilled commonplace.”

Those who don’t, within the opinion of the event referee, are “topic to a superb of as much as first-round prize cash.”

The differing circumstances of the 2 circumstances mirror the subjective nature of the rule, whose policing can have extreme penalties in a sport through which most gamers battle to interrupt even financially.

Both penalized gamers have appealed, and their opponents have mentioned they disagree with the penalties. Sakkari referred to as Tatishvili’s “tremendous unfair.”

The rule was supposed to forestall injured gamers from competing in Grand Slam occasions simply to say prize cash, which has been rising steeply for even first-round losers in recent times. It was prompted by a rash of gamers retiring halfway by way of first-round matches at majors due to pre-existing accidents.

Bernard Tomic acknowledged that he “performed horrible” in his first-round loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at Wimbledon. The event fined him greater than $50,000 for it.CreditClive Brunskill/Getty Images

The development reached its nadir at Wimbledon in 2017, when the opponents of Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer halted back-to-back matches on Centre Court after lower than an hour, shortchanging spectators.

A carrot was provided to gamers who withdrew earlier than play started: half of the first-round prize cash. The stick: harsh fines if the referee determined a participant shouldn’t have taken the court docket.

Two gamers have been fined below the brand new rule final yr: Mischa Zverev, who was docked 75 p.c of his prize cash after retiring due to sickness midway by way of his opening match on the Australian Open, and Peter Gojowczyk, who misplaced about 60 p.c of his pay after he retired from his first-round match on the French Open with a hip harm.

Since the rule took impact, the variety of midmatch retirements within the first spherical has dropped, and the variety of pretournament withdrawals has elevated.

This yr, although, event referees have punished seemingly wholesome gamers who’ve accomplished matches however turned in underwhelming performances.

Tomic had no harm, however the referee decided that his effort towards Tsonga had been substandard. The match lasted solely 58 minutes and featured Tomic enjoying in a characteristically languid fashion, usually at a strolling tempo. Even although Tomic misplaced shortly, there was a stretch when he gained 16 consecutive factors on his serve.

“I believe I performed as finest as I might,” mentioned Tomic, a 26-year-old Australian ranked 96th. “It’s simply I performed horrible.”

He was not assessed a code violation for lack of effort through the match; his forfeiture of the prize cash was introduced two days later.

Vasek Pospisil, a member of the ATP participant council, mentioned the choice set a “horrible precedent.”

“His effort ranges or lack thereof are nearly irrelevant: He didn’t get a code violation or warning throughout his match for lack of effort, so it doesn’t appear proper to then punish him afterward,” Pospisil mentioned. “This ought to have been accomplished by the umpire throughout play. If he obtained a warning, he might have modified his angle and prevented a superb.”

Another member of the council, John Isner, mentioned he was O.Ok. with the superb as a result of Tomic’s match “doesn’t look good for our recreation.”

But Tsonga mentioned the choice discredited the hassle and focus he had summoned to beat an erratic participant like Tomic. “It’s like what I did was not win,” he mentioned. “It’s like I used to be simply right here and I simply gained as a result of, they mentioned, he didn’t play sufficient.”

Jo-Wilfred Tsonga mentioned penalizing Tomic for his effort discredited his personal efficiency of their first-round match.CreditClive Brunskill/Getty Images

Tomic gained 38 p.c of the factors and prevailed in seven of the video games; three different males gained the identical variety of video games or fewer within the first spherical. Seven extra gained the identical or fewer in later-round losses, together with Tsonga, who gained solely seven video games in a third-round loss to Rafael Nadal. But these matches weren’t topic to scrutiny below the “First Round Performance” rule.

Tomic was more than likely handled as a repeat offender. Once a sensation who reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals at 18, he has been dogged by accusations of giving little effort. After delivering a lackluster efficiency at Wimbledon in 2017 and saying that he was “bored” throughout his first-round loss, Tomic was dropped by his racket sponsor, Head. Matches like a 28-minute loss on the Miami Open in 2014 earned him a nickname: Tomic the Tank Engine.

“There is a historical past there,” Mark Woodforde, a six-time Wimbledon doubles champion from Australia, mentioned final week on BBC Radio 5 Live. “I’m happy that the membership took away that prize cash. Hit them the place it hurts.”

In the case of Tatishvili, the priority was not her effort on the court docket, however her readiness to compete in any respect after the lengthy harm layoff. Ranked as excessive as 50th in 2012, she went to Paris unranked, however was capable of enter the French Open utilizing a protected rating, which was set to run out on the finish of June. She hoped to start her comeback to the tour there, and he or she has performed two tournaments since, with plans to play extra in August.

To put together for her return, Tatishvili arrived in Paris every week earlier than the event started. Because of her lengthy absence, her participation was contingent on passing stability exams administered by event docs, which she did.

Tatishvili mentioned she didn’t take into account making the most of the rule permitting her to drag out of the event beforehand for 50 p.c of the pay as a result of she felt prepared to provide competing a shot.

She gained 31 factors and prolonged Sakkari in lots of lengthy video games, however nonetheless misplaced badly.

“I went and did my finest on the court docket,” Tatishvili mentioned in an interview every week after the match. “Did I play unbelievably nicely? No, as a result of I’m simply beginning again.”

The day after she was denied her prize cash, Tatishvili obtained an electronic mail from Andreas Egli, the Grand Slam supervisor, that mentioned officers had reviewed her match reside and on video, checked out match statistics and decided that she was “not sufficiently ready to play a Grand Slam.”

Sakkari, her opponent, mentioned Tatishvili was “positively not tanking the match.”

“I used to be enjoying actually good these weeks, and I believe she did the utmost she might,” Sakkari mentioned.

To attraction the ruling to the Grand Slam Board, Tatishvili’s attorneys ready a 40-page authorized doc with supportive statements from a number of tennis gamers and coaches, together with Sakkari and Chris Evert, and criticisms of the rule’s vagaries.

“First spherical efficiency rule offers professionals like Anna no thought as to what they have to do or not do throughout their first-round match to fulfill the rule’s undefined ‘skilled commonplace,’” the doc mentioned.

Tatishvili mentioned the rule is simply too subjective to be correctly enforced. “They’re making assumptions and so they’re labeling me,” she mentioned, “and just about destroying my popularity.”

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