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As Elena Rybakina sounds off on performance byes, Iga Swiatek says they’re “smart”
"I know how it is to rush to another tournament and not have time to rest and prepare," Swiatek said in Beijing. "I think that rule is fine."
Published Oct 03, 2023
With or without a bye, world No. 5 Elena Rybakina got off to a flying start at the China Open in Beijing. But the topic still appeared to be on her mind after her 6-1, 6-2 rout of Zheng Qinwen on Monday.
Rybakina, who clashed with WTA leadership last week over the topic of performance byes at the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo, was scheduled to compete in the first round for the second week in a row—but this time, she said, there was clear communication from the tour informing her of the situation.
“Of course, in Tokyo I wasn't happy,” Rybakina told press in Beijing. “Just with the performance bye, I wasn't informed. I really don't like the situation that everybody puts it like it was explained.
“My coach, (and) of course me, I didn't have time to go to the meetings.”
Last week, Rybakina and her coach Stefan Vukov hit out at the WTA over “lack of communication” about circumstances that left the player—the No. 3 seed at the WTA 500-level event—without a bye into the second round unlike the other top seeds.
Even though the Tokyo tournament’s use of performance byes for Guadalajara semifinalists had been clearly listed on its fact sheet, a document that contains key relevant information for players and staff, the 2022 Wimbledon champion explained how that only added to the confusion.
“What was written on the fact sheet and everywhere, it was written that it's going to be in Tokyo four to six performance byes, which didn't explain if they (were) going to add extra two or they are going to take out one bye. That's why I wasn't happy,” she said.
“Even though I came to Tokyo a couple of days (early), everybody saw me, no one told me about this, that it might happen.”
Rybakina subsequently withdrew from Tokyo—a move that she said was actually due to injury concerns. The 24-year-old has indeed been struggling physically for much of the hard-court swing, frequently sporting tape on her right arm and shoulder during Cincinnati and the US Open. Previously, she pulled out of her Roland Garros third-round match due to an upper respiratory illness, and struggled in Dubai with a low back injury.
“I don't think it was good to put this rule just in end of the season because we had many events like this. I don't think that it looks nice, that world No. 1 doesn't have a bye,” Rybakina added, referring to Beijing’s top seed Aryna Sabalenka, who defeated Sofia Kenin 6-1, 6-2 in the first round after four performance byes went to other players.
“This is something to discuss with the players and see how the rule is going to be in the future, because it wasn't here for four years.”
While Rybakina has made her opinion clear, world No. 2 Iga Swiatek also waded into the growing discourse on Monday. The Polish player said that she's actually completely “fine” with the use of performance byes, adding that they’re a “smart” way to support players facing long travel with tight turnarounds in consecutive weeks—like from Guadalajara to Tokyo, and from Tokyo to Beijing.
“I didn't really dig into this rule so much because these are the first tournaments that I'm playing where it's possible to get this kind of thing,” Swiatek told press after her first-round match. “But it's been on tour for a long time.
"I think it's smart because usually when I had the tournaments, when I really played till the end, I know how it is to rush to another tournament and not really have time to rest and prepare."
“So I think that rule is fine. I think that rule makes sense. It's for sure different, because usually the top-seeded player gets the bye.”
Despite her ranking, No. 2 seed Swiatek didn’t receive a performance bye in Beijing either, along with No. 5 Rybakina, No. 1 Sabalenka, and No. 3 Coco Gauff. Instead, byes were awarded to Tokyo finalists No. 4 Jessica Pegula and eventual champion No. 15 Veronika Kudermetova, and semifinalists Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and No. 6 Maria Sakkari.