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"My body is not ready": Elena Rybakina addresses Tokyo withdrawal after performance byes criticism
The Kazakh was scheduled to face Linda Noskova in the opening round, but pulled out of the tournament citing health-related reasons.
Published Sep 26, 2023
A few days after hitting out at the WTA over the reintroduction of performance byes, Elena Rybakina has taken to social media once again—this time to clarify her withdrawal from the upcoming WTA 500 tournament in Tokyo.
The 2022 Wimbledon champion all but called the WTA leadership “clowns” via a series of sarcastic emojis over the weekend, as she vented her frustrations at being denied a first-round bye at the Toray Pan Pacific Open.
To recap: No. 1 Iga Swiatek and No. 2 seed Jessica Pegula received first-round byes in Tokyo, while two more byes were reserved for players who made deep runs in Guadalajara. These would ultimately go to No. 5 seed Caroline Garcia, who reached the semifinals, and No. 4 seed Maria Sakkari, the eventual champion—meaning Rybakina, the No. 3 seed who would have traditionally received a first-round bye, was the odd woman out.
The Kazakh, who accused the WTA of “changing the rules at the last moment,” was scheduled to face Linda Noskova in the opening round, but pulled out of the tournament after the draw was made citing health-related reasons.
“As a player I want to give my all on the court and at the moment my body is not ready to do that,” she wrote on Instagram Stories. “That’s why I decided to listen to my body and withdraw from the tournament. I love Japan, my fans here are so unique and for that reason this is a tough decision.”
The 24-year-old has indeed been struggling with injury 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.
“The WTA topic is another topic, on which I have my opinions and will clearly voice them and will clearly voice them in (the) future,” Rybakina added. “To my fans, thank you for your support, I appreciate it very much!”
Rybakina’s coach, Stefano Vukov, on the other hand, was quick to voice his own opinions as he continued to question the validity of performance byes. These have been a fixture of the WTA Rules since 2009, used between Antwerp and Dubai in 2015 and most recently between Wuhan and Beijing during the Asia swing in 2019.
“Just to make things clear, there is no explanation of what a performance bye is,” Vukov wrote. “What does this mean? Do we add byes to help performing players? Or do we take away ranking earned byes? And isn’t ranking itself a sign of performance?"
“...Last year we came from a final in Europe and played in Japan two days later and performance byes were nowhere to be found," he added. "The issue is always the same: lack of communication.”
WTA Rules defines a performance bye as “the type of bye awarded to a player based on her previous week’s performance as determined by the WTA when approving the calendar and draw sizes.” A provision for performance byes was also included in the 2023 Tokyo tournament fact sheet.
Vukov additionally seemed to call on the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA) to take action, using his post to shout out the breakaway organization co-founded by Vasek Pospisil and Novak Djokovic that advocates for players’ best interests.
“We need transparency. All players need to understand what is going on. Stop blaming players for mistakes made by the system itself,” he said, tagging the PTPA’s Instagram handle.
Rybakina was replaced by Japan's Sakatsume Himeno in the Tokyo draw. She is scheduled to return to action at the China Open, a WTA 1000 level tournament in Beijing kicking off on September 30.