by René Denfeld and Victoria Chiesa
There’s an elephant in the room at the BGL BNP Paribas Open in Luxembourg and it’s called Singapore. In early October, the WTA announced that the International event would not be counting in the Race to the WTA Finals, putting a damper on the tournament’s 25th anniversary. TTI caught up with some of the parties affected by the tournament’s ineligibility in the race for the big showdown of the 2015 season.
When walking around the CK Sportscentre — the venue of the long-standing WTA event in Luxembourg — one would assume that the tournament was a feature of the Road to Singapore.
Numerous print-outs of the current WTA Race to the year-end championships in singles and doubles are visible across the site, but Luxembourg itself bares no relevance to the Top 8 showdown in Singapore. The incredibly tight standings in this year’s race took center stage as WTA’s autumn wound towards a dramatic finale — but much of the air was taken out of the proverbial bubble when word spread the long-time stop wouldn’t count due to its championship match being held on a Sunday.
While Lucie Hradecka is on her way to Singapore for the WTA Finals in doubles, the Czech had to withdraw from Luxembourg’s singles event — even though she and partner Andrea Hlavackova were only scheduled to be alternates in Singapore at the time. The Czechs are now in the field as a result of Ekaterina Makarova’s injury withdrawal, but the feelings of Hradecka’s coach Jiří Fencl have not changed regarding the situation.
“Singles entries deadlines are six weeks in advance, so the Moscow and Luxembourg deadline came during the US Open,” Fencl said via email en route to Singapore. “They obviously planned for Wuhan and Beijing — the biggest tournaments — and after that they thought, ‘Let’s play what we need.’ The mistake made was that we were not familiar with the WTA rule that does not allow a player to withdraw from singles and play doubles somewhere else — and, we also were not aware of the fact that Luxembourg does not count to in the Road to Singapore.”
Fencl said that they only learned of the issue with Luxembourg in Beijing, when discussing different scenarios with WTA supervisors. After reaching the final in Linz, Hradecka and Hlavackova found themselves just 250 points behind Americans Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears — their conquerers for the Linz title — for the No. 8 slot. While no one could’ve foreseen how the latter portion of the season would’ve played out, doubles winners in International events (such as Luxembourg) earn 280 points in the Road to Singapore standings while winning a Premier event (such as Moscow) earns 470 points. With Hradecka already entered in the singles draw in Luxembourg, the Czech’s hands were essentially tied — and several other WTA rules forced her hand.
“Basically, the rule says, once you are in main draw of a WTA tournament, if you withdraw to play another tournament in same week in singles or doubles, your ranking points would not count,” Fencl said. “And, of course, you pay a late withdrawal fine. But after talks with the WTA, we were informed that girls would not even be able to sign in for Moscow.”
“Based on WTA rules, the alternate team has to be ready in Singapore by the start of the first match,” he said. “That is Sunday, [meaning] you should arrive to Singapore on Saturday at the latest, leaving Europe on Friday. So Lucie would technically have to tank the match in Luxembourg, get home and the next day, leave to Singapore. So, she had to ‘change the schedule.'”
While he described the Czechs’ entry into Singapore due to Makarova’s withdrawal as a “very, very lucky break,” Fencl feels that several things can change to prevent this situation from happening in subsequent years to allow all players a fair shot at qualifying for the year-end championships on merit.
“The rule I was talking about earlier should exclude doubles, because it disadvantages players playing both singles and doubles over players who play doubles only,” Fencl said. “[Doubles-only players] don’t have to commit until Sunday before the tournament. The only time a singles player would withdraw from a main draw to play doubles somewhere else is really once a year in a special case like this — trying to qualify for Singapore.”
The discrepancy Fencl references regarding entry rules for singles and doubles players is found on pages 28 and 56, respectively of the WTA Rulebook.
“The ideal solution would be to have week off after Luxembourg and Moscow to give players who qualify some time to recover and travel,” Fencl concluded. “If you look what has happened this year with Moscow — Wild Cards Poker, then top seeds withdrawing, re-shuffling the draw, [Timea] Bacsinszky not being to able to fight for Singapore…it is just a mess.”
Fencl referenced Bacsinszky — who also featured in Luxembourg this week while within touching distance of a Top 8 spot in Singapore. On Wednesday evening, the top seed opened her campaign against lucky loser Laura Siegemund, but a knee injury suffered at the end of the second set forced her to retire with the match at one set apiece.
The Swiss soared back up the Road To Singapore rankings after making the final in Beijing and a WTA Finals ticket was would’ve been well within her reach — if Luxembourg counted towards the standings. Alas, once Bacsinszky lost the China Open championship to Garbiñe Muguruza and was denied a late wild card into the Generali Open in Linz, her chase for a Top 8 place in Singapore was over.
After the match, Bacsinszky sat down with the press and explained that she will get her knee checked out by her doctors, with the hope that her ligaments will be fine and that she will be able to take her place as an alternate in the Singapore field. The 26-year-old also shed some light on the problems that occurred with Luxembourg not counting towards the year-end event.
“Well, we didn’t get so much information,” Bacsinszky said. “I’m saying ‘we’ because there are many, many other players, too. It was really a lack of information on this because otherwise, definitely, I would’ve scheduled my year differently…I know since the beginning of the year I was Top 10 in the Race all the time, pretty much.
“I found out this issue before playing my semifinal against Ana [Ivanovic] and she did the same at the same moment in Beijing. So we were both like, ‘Alright, er, thanks for letting us know!’ Well, there were some notices but it was probably not consequent enough for this big issue.”
For Bacsinszky, coming back to Luxembourg was a natural decision, as it’s a place where she won her first WTA title and lifted the doubles trophy twice. The other option for this week would’ve been the WTA Premier in Moscow, which is eligible for Singapore due to the tournament ending on a Saturday.
“I looked at my schedule earlier this year seeing which tournament I will play at the end of the year. Even though Moscow was giving more points at that time, definitely I didn’t know anything about points again, I said, ‘Okay, which one? You have to choose between both….Okay, why not come to Luxembourg?’ I won once here in singles, twice in doubles, so definitely a great memory.
“You also learn from that and even if the information doesn’t come to you, you maybe have to go for the information for next time. When I came here, it was my decision to play no matter what. Many times, when I engage myself in something, I do it until the end — even if sometimes you have some different plans. I wouldn’t engage myself if I know I cannot keep it, keep this engagement until the end.”
The tournament director in Luxembourg declined to comment on the Singapore situation, but this is not the first year that the WTA’s season-ending field has come down to the final week of the season. In 2009, Jelena Jankovic claimed the last place when Agnieszka Radwanska and Vera Zvonareva fell early at the Kremlin Cup; the year after, Victoria Azarenka secured the No. 8 position in Doha by winning the title in Moscow while the aforementioned Radwanska punched her ticket when Marion Bartoli withdrew from the Kremlin Cup quarterfinals in 2011.
It is, however, the first year the Luxembourg has been thrust into the spotlight — for better or worse — in deciding the WTA’s “Elite 8,” and it remains to be seen just what will come of this season’s events next year and beyond.