It is a decision that may be surprising only to those who issued the fine in the first place.
The “non-performance” fine assessed to American Anna Tatishvili after her first-round match at the French Open has been reversed by the Grand Slam Board.
According to the director of communications from Kirkland Ellis, the law firm that represented Tatishvili pro bono, the letter from the director of the Grand Slam board included these concessions:
“In a letter to Ms. Tatishvili, the Board’s Director yesterday acknowledges that this was “the first (First Round Performance Rule) determination where the player completed the match,” making it “more difficult – though no less critical – to establish what constitutes a ‘professional standard’.” Based on a “heightened point-by-point scrutiny of the entire match,” the Director found that “[d]espite the scoreline, it is clear that you — even confirmed by your in-form opponent — were competing professionally from the first to the very last point.”
It’s selectively edited. But it appears as though the board acknowledges that if you don’t retire mid-match, you have to tread very carefully. Because accusing someone of not making their best effort is a subjective notion that is subject to many variables.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reported Friday that Bernard Tomic – who received the same penalty at Wimbledon – not only did not win his appeal, he was privileged to receive a condescending, sneering letter from Grand Slam board director Bill Babcock for his trouble.
(Not only that, the letter was amateurish, and extremely poorly written).
Rusty first match back
Tatishvili, a 29-year-old currently ranked No. 726 was playing with a protected ranking just outside the top 100. It was her first match since Oct. 2017. She didn’t get a great draw; the former No. 50 faced Maria Sakkari of Greece in the first round.
She lost, 6-0, 6-1. It wasn’t unexpected after more than 18 months out and multiple ankle surgeries. Tatishvili might have been better served to at least try to play a tournament or two before returning on the Grand Slam stage, where she was guaranteed to run into a top-100 player – or, as was the case here, a seeded player.
But the officials in Paris decided her effort didn’t live up to the first-round “performance standard”. This was instituted when the Grand Slams added the rule where injured players could withdraw from tournaments late – and still get part of their first-round loser’s prize money. The flip side of that rule is that players who chose to compete despite not being in top form would then come under more scrutiny,
Zverev the first victim of “performance” rule
So Tatishvili will get her first-round loser’s money from Roland Garros. That’s great news, it amounts to over $50,000 US and will greatly help her as she continues her comeback. Being out of the game 18 months, at her level, is pretty crushing financially.
The four-member Grand Slam board was among the organizations that voted in the change for the 2018 season. It is similar to the one instituted by the ATP,
The first “victim” was poor Mischa Zverev. The veteran German lefty retired in the first round of the 2018 Australian Open, down 6-2, 4-1 to Hyeon Chung of Korea. Zverev apparently had a fever, and was on painkillers (which would not make him unusual among his brethren).
How anyone could reasonably expect that a player would pull out of a Grand Slam tournament as much as a week before it starts because he’s sick, is one of those grey areas. You would have every expectation that you’d be feeling much better by the time the tournament begins.
Zverev was still allowed to play doubles. And we watched that match in Australia, as recounted below. So it’s a little counterintuitive.
Tomic docked at Wimbledon
The third recipient of the “failure to perform” fine was Tomic.
Tomic dropped his first-round match to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in straight sets. But when you lose three sets in less than an hour – even on grass – and you have Tomic’s history, some alarm bells are going to go off. He was docked his entire first-round loser’s winnings.
Tomic wasn’t expansive in his press conference, as you can see above.
But he later elaborated to Reuters, saying he had come in from the grass event in Antalya (where the temps were over 100F and where he made the quarterfinals) and felt unwell over the weekend.
This, despite Tomic’s history, is not out of the realm of possibility.
He did put up a 6-4 in the third set, hardly indicative of a lack of desire.
Tsonga agreed with the notion that it somewhat devalued his own effort. And he felt the fine was too harsh.
The result of Tomic’s appeal is up at the top of this story.
Notably, in the New York Times story, there is consensus from both the board and Tomic that chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani – whose eagerness to give players pep talks in the middle of matches to keep their ‘try’ level up is documented – did nothing in this particular case.
Tatishvili still winless in return
According to the 2019 edition of the Grand Slam rulebook, the director of the Grand Slam board is Babcock. We’re not sure who the others are – we haven’t yet found any public record of the board’s members.
In the end, Tatishvili was pleased to be vindicated.
“I love this sport, and after years battling injury, I’m excited to be back in competition and getting stronger every day,” she said in the press release.
Since that French Open match, the American has played just twice.
She lost 6-2, 6-2 to former top-10 player Timea Bacsinszky at a 125K event in Bol, Croatia during the second week of the French Open.
And she was defeated 6-0, 6-1 in the first round of a $60,000 ITF in Rome the following week by Anastasia Grymalska of Italy. Grymalska, also 29, is currently ranked No. 310.
Tatishvili has not played since.