On the surface, tennis largely stays the same year after year. Balls and rackets are still pretty essential; sidelines and baselines are still white. Look a little deeper, however, and you’ll find that there are often quite a few changes under the hood.
Or in this case, in the rule books.
After the International Tennis Federation instituted Rule 31 – which addresses the use of player analysis technology – to its Rules of Tennis last year, the ITF did not make any notable changes to its rules for 2015.
On the ATP World Tour, there has been just one rewrite, and it’s an important one. The ATP has instituted a change in its lucky loser policy, and it brings tour rules (nearly) in line with Grand Slam rules. Rather than automatically selecting the highest-ranked loser in qualifying to enter the draw, the ATP has now instituted a process of random selection.
A. Lucky Loser Selection
A player may be entered in the main draw of a tournament if he meets the criteria outlined for a lucky loser.
1) Lucky losers are players who have lost in the final round of the qualifying event or, if more lucky losers are required, those players who have lost in the previous qualifying round(s). Lucky Losers shall be selected based on the computer rankings used for the determination of qualifying seeding as follows: The order of the two (2) highest ranked players shall be randomly drawn, thereafter the order shall follow the players’ rankings, unless there are two (2) or more withdrawals at the time the Qualifying competition is finished in which case the size of the random draw will be the number of withdrawals plus two (2). In the case where players from the previous round are included in the draw they will be placed behind all players who have lost in the final round of qualifying. Only those accepted into the qualifying competition may sign in as lucky losers.
The WTA, however, is a completely different story. Rule changes abound, and they don’t discriminate.
The biggest change on the women’s circuit is the new International-level tournament entry rules for WTA Top 10 players. In previous years, Top 10 players were limited to two International tournaments per year – one prior to Wimbledon and one after. Beginning in 2015, however, they will now be permitted to play three International tournaments a year should they fulfill the following:
In addition, Top 10 Players who were on the 2014 Top 10 List and played all of their Commitment Tournaments and two (2) Premier 700 Tournaments in 2014 and new Top 10 Players in 2015 may play a third International Tournament any time during the Tour Year provided that:
i. At the time of entry (whether by direct acceptance or Wild Card) into the third International Tournament, the Top 10 Player has already entered two (2) International Tournaments (one in each half of the Tour Year) and two (2) Premier 700 Tournaments;
ii. At the time of entry (whether by direct acceptance or Wild Card) into the third International Tournament, either (i) no other Top 10 Player has entered the International Tournament; or (ii) no more than one (1) Top 10 Player has entered the International Tournament if the Tournament has already announced increased prize money of at least $500,000 in advance in accordance with the International Prize Money Policy (for 2015, by January 1, 2015);
iii. The Top 10 Player plays no more than two (2) International Tournaments in either half of the Tour Year;
Even with the increase, Top 10 players will not be allowed to ‘stack’ International tournaments and are still required to schedule them 2+1 or 1+2 per half of the tour year should they so choose. 3+0 or 0+3 is not allowed.
iv. If the Top 10 Player plays two (2) International Tournaments in one half of the Tour Year and zero (0) International Tournaments in the other half of the Tour Year, she is not permitted to play a third International Tournament in the following Tour Year (unless she had a Long Term Injury that prevented her from playing an International Tournament in one half of the year), but may play two (2) International Tournaments in accordance with this Section II.D.5.a if she is eligible.
Should a player intend to play three Internationals, but only ends up playing 2+0 or 0+2, she will not permitted to play a third International in the following year – unless she had a long-term injury that prevented her from playing the third tournament in one half of the year. If a Top 10 player did not play in all of her commitment tournaments (eight Premier Mandatories and Premier 5s), she will also not be allowed the extra event.
With this change, all parties involved win. Tournament directors get their big-ticket player, and fans get to see Top 10 players. Petra Kvitova, for example, would’ve exhausted her only International tournament in the first half of the year this week in Shenzhen, but now has the opportunity to play at home in the Sparta Prague Open in April. In 2013, Agnieszka Radwanska was not allowed to play in the inaugural edition of the Katowice Open – the WTA’s return to Poland after the cancellation of the Warsaw Open – because she played in Auckland in the first week of the year.
The WTA’s friction with the ITF – particularly over Fed Cup – in recent years has intensified, with CEO Stacey Allaster saying at the WTA Finals that the organization was looking to create its own national team event separate from Fed Cup. Several of the approved addenda seem to be, as WTA coach Jiří Fencl pointed out on Twitter, particularly pointed towards the ITF. Putting aside the feelings of the WTA’s upper management towards the ITF, these rule changes in particular could actually end up harming players – the very people the WTA is seeking to protect – in the long run.
The first rule was added to clarify that players are subject to a fine for participating in non-WTA tournaments held opposite WTA tournaments, including Fed Cup.
If a player is unable to arrive at her first scheduled Main Draw match of a WTA Tournament or withdraws from the Main Draw of a WTA Tournament due to her participation in a Fed Cup event, the player must follow the procedures set forth in this Section to withdraw from such Tournament and the player shall be subject to the Late Withdrawal fines set out in Section III.B.2.
Money talks, and she’s saying a lot now.
Finding a balance between Fed Cup duty and WTA events has long been a challenge for players, especially in the shadow of an Olympic year. Will this make players less likely to commit to Fed Cup? The WTA might think so.
The second of these rule changes can be found in Sect. XIV.B.2.d – in the “General Rules” of the WTA Ranking System:
d. ITF Tournament Singles Finals Delayed
If the Singles Final only of an ITF $50K and higher event is not completed by Sunday 11:59 p.m. U.S. Eastern time, the singles finalists will receive finalist points in the current week’s rankings run and the winner’s points will be adjusted in the following week’s rankings run.
While the player won’t be denied the ranking points she rightfully earns, this change could spell problems down the line. It’s understandable that the WTA would want to protect its product, and encourage players to enter WTA events. However, where else can a player give herself the opportunity to play WTA events than the ITF Circuit?
Put it like this: Player A wins an ITF event that allows her ranking to rise to the point where she could get direct entry into a Grand Slam, but the final of that tournament is played on a Monday due to a weather delay. In the next week’s rankings, Player A gets finalist points, which are not enough to get her into the main draw. She gets her winner’s points added on the next week, but she’s missed the cutoff. Essentially, Player A earned her spot in the main draw of a Grand Slam – and the valuable prize money that comes with it – but had it taken away from her on a technicality.
The final notable change in the WTA rules for 2015 lies within the Special Ranking (SR), or long-term injury rule. Previously, players who wanted to use their protected ranking after a lengthy layoff could use it to enter eight tournaments in total, including one Grand Slam. Beginning in 2015, players can now use it to enter two Grand Slams in those eight events. It’s by far the most positive change in the WTA rules for 2015, and discussions regarding the best way to assist players in their returns to the WTA are ongoing.
What are your feelings about the latest changes to the WTA rules? Sound off in the comments!