Significant changes to WTA Tour in ’18

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The WTA Tour’s Board of Directors met at the US Open to debate a host of proposed changes for next year.

Tennis.Life has learned that a good number of them were adopted.

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Some are a matter of minor housekeeping.

Some are more significant.

Here’s a summary of the changes that will go into effect at the beginning of the 2018 season.

Only a few of the proposals didn’t make it through the approval process. It seems as though most are fairly sensible. And the first one was definitely prompted by the number of high-level players making their way back up the rankings in 2018.

Yes, that means Serena. But she’s not the only one.

The Serena-Sharapova-Azarenka Rule

Until this year, International-level tournaments were allowed to take so-called “top-20” wild cards left unused by the WTA and award them to players not only in the top 20, but who also were former Grand Slam, WTA Tour Finals or Premier Mandatory tournament champions or had been ranked No. 1.

But Premier and Premier 5 events didn’t have the same flexibility. Those wild cards had to go to top-20 players.

As of 2018, all the tournament levels will be able to use those wild cards under the more relaxed criteria. In other words, any tournament except the Premier Mandatories will be able to offer the likes of Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova or Victoria Azarenka one of those top-20 wild cards (subject to the wild-card limits).

Time violations now in line with ATP

The time-violation rule doesn’t seem to be nearly as much of an issue on the WTA Tour, compared to the ATP Tour. But the rules will now be the same.

As of 2018, the serving player will be docked the loss of a first serve for each time-violation after the initial warning. For the returner, it will remain a point penalty.

The time between points, though, will stay at 20 seconds (unlike the ATP Tour, where it is 25).

Maternity leave restrictions eased

The rules for a player taking a maternity leave were significantly more restrictive than those for a player coming back from an injury or illness.

Those players didn’t have a limit as to how long they could be out. But players who left the tour to have a baby had to be “ready to play their first tournament within 12 months of the birth of their child.”

No longer. The rules are the same for both.

Break for young junior Slam finalists

Until this year, a 14-year-old who reached a junior Grand Slam final wasn’t allowed to add an extra pro event – called a “merited increase” – to her schedule for the year. That only applied to juniors aged 15-17.

That will change in 2018, although any 14-year-old who earns one must use it the following year, no later.

Marta Kostyuk (pictured) was 14 when she won the junior Australian Open. Amanda Anisimova was 14 when she reached the junior French Open final. And Cori Gauff was just 13 when she reached the junior US Open final this year. (Stephanie Myles-Tennis.Life)

Keep you mikes on, coaches – or else!

Coaches who “accidentally” fail to turn on their microphones as they head out for an on-court consult with their player, or remove it from where it’s attached to their clothing, or somehow obstruct the sound will find their players heavily penalized in 2018.

(That’s assuming, of course, that the rule is enforced).

If it happens, the coach won’t be allowed to come back out on court for the rest of that tournament – and for the next tournament as well. And the player involved won’t be allowed to designate another coach to come on court for that same two-tournament period.

If the coach works with more than one player, that applies to the others as well.

Muguruza coach Sam Sumyk has been known to tamper with his on-court coaching mike a time or two.

The “week-before-Slam” dance is done

The practice of players entering a tournament the week before a Grand Slam even though they’re entered in the qualifying of the Slam – i.e., entering two events the same week – seems to be a thing of the past as of 2018.

That’s a practice that has led to a ton of last-minute withdrawals, lack of best effort, and all sorts of bad optics. Events like Sydney and Hobart, held the week before the Australian Open and during the week of the qualifying (which begins on the Wednesday), are examples of tournaments that get crushed with late pullouts.

Sydney and Hobart were pretty decimated a year ago, and the WTA Tour wants to avoid a repeat.

As of 2018, if a player enters one of these tuneup events (whether it’s main draw, or alternate, or qualifying, or even doubles) and is also entered in the Slam qualifying as of 4 p.m. the day before the WTA Tour event’s qualifying begins, she’ll automatically be removed from the WTA event list. 

The only exception to that is if a player takes part in the WTA event, gives best effort and loses – and then is offered a wild card into the Slam qualifying.

There are no penalties for those automatic withdrawals. But there is new language added in terms of the significantly higher penalties players might incur if they do play that tuneup event and play the Slam qualifying the same week, or fail to give their best effort. (That shouldn’t happen, though, if the player is automatically withdrawn from the WTA entry list).

As a result, the qualifying draw in Hobart in January may be reduced from 32 players to 24, although that’s to be confirmed.

No doubling up for qualifiers

Finally, the WTA Tour has realized that the rule about a player being allowed to postpone their first-round qualifying match a day to allow her time to get from her previous event is patently unfair to the opponent.

If the opponent wins, she will usually have to play a second match the same day (where her opponent may not have to), through no fault of her own, because she was waiting on site.

Player will no longer be able to play qualifying unless they are out of all events at their previous tournaments no later than the day of the qualifying sign-in deadline, which is typically the day before qualifying begins. 

She can only sign in for qualifying if can feasibly travel quickly enough to get there on time.  If she ends up not making it, she’ll be subject to late withdrawal and no-show fines.

 The re-seed shuffle is simplified

When a seeded player withdraws from a tournament after the draw is made, it’s always a dance. The bigger the tournament and the more seeded players there are, the more complicated it is.

Three moves to two, five moves to three, nine moves to five, 13 moves to nine, 17 moves to 13, and so on. 

The notion behind that was to keep the quality of each section as high as possible, and not leave a big hole. But it throws the whole draw out of whack.

As of 2018, it will be a lot simpler.

It’s broken down into “before and after” – i.e., before the schedule of play has been released, and after.

If it’s before, the high-ranked unseeded player or team moves into the spot that had belonged to the seeded player who pulls out. That’s also true in draws with byes in which all the seeded players have byes (i.e., a 48-player draw).

If only some of the seeds have byes (i.e., a 56-player draw), the No. 9 seed (who wouldn’t have a bye) moves into that vacant spot, and the highest-ranked unseeded player moves into the No. 9 seed’s spot.

If the withdraw comes after the order of play is released – but before play has begun – the same basic rules apply.

If play has begun, the lucky loser or alternate takes the seeded player’s spot, wherever it it, bye or no bye.

In the qualifying, the procedure is even more straightforward. The next in takes the place of the seeded player, whether the order of play is out or play has begun.

Proposals that didn’t make the cut

The above outlines most of the proposals that were adopted.

There were a couple of others that were rejected by the board.

-increasing per diems and adding eligibility

-changing back to advantage scoring in the first two sets of doubles matches

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