August 18, 2019

One Huge Tennis Fine Is Overturned, Another Upheld

One Huge Tennis Fine Is Overturned, Another Upheld


Anna Tatishvili has won an appeal of one of the harshest penalties in tennis. After a 6-1, 6-0 loss to Maria Sakkari in the first round of the French Open in May, Tatishvili was fined all of her first-round prize money, 46,000 euros, or about $51,500, for failing to “perform to the required professional standard.”

Soon after, Tatishvili, 29, filed a 40-page appeal to the Grand Slam board. After reviewing those documents and video of the match, Bill Babcock, the board director, told Tatishvili on Thursday that her prize money would be returned.

She had been out with persistent ankle injuries for 19 months ahead of the French Open, and in a letter explaining his decision, Babcock wrote that “there is no evidence that your movement was restricted or that you were not using your best efforts.”

“Despite the score line,” the letter continued, “it is clear that you — even confirmed by your in-form opponent — were competing professionally from the first to the very last point, however unsuccessful in the end.”

Bernard Tomic, who was fined all of his prize money — 45,000 pounds, or $56,600 — after a listless 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 defeat against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the first round of Wimbledon this month, also appealed, but he received only a meager concession from Babcock. Tomic, 26, will get 25 percent of his prize money back two years from now, if he can play eight Grand Slam events without receiving a single code violation.

Unlike Tatishvili, Tomic had not been injured, and the Wimbledon fine most likely took into consideration his history of periodically delivering underwhelming performances.

“A review of your historical record of misconduct at Grand Slams, never mind elsewhere, provides little justification for an adjustment,” Babcock wrote, adding later: “In your case, Bernard, I am sure you would agree there is no historical evidence to give comfort to the theory that you can reform your behavior.”

Tatishvili said in a statement that she was happy that “justice has been served” and that the ruling “definitively confirmed that I played to the best of my ability.”

“I love this sport, and after years battling injury, I’m excited to be back in competition and getting stronger every day,” Tatishvili said.

The First Round Performance rule, added for the 2018 season, was intended to prevent injured players from appearing in Grand Slam events simply to claim prize money. It was prompted by a rash of players retiring midway through first-round matches at majors because of existing injuries.

Tatishvili was the first player fined under the rule to have completed the match in question, which complicated her case.

“Earlier cases carried the objective fact of retirement from the match, thereby bolstering the determination that the player had miscalculated his/her professional match fitness,” Babcock wrote.

He conceded that “a completed match requires heightened scrutiny of the match itself beyond length and score to have a secure finding of” a violation.

Babcock said that the match footage had been reviewed “with the helpful presence of a highly regarded independent coaching expert who has worked with numerous top players.”

Babcock ended his letter to Tatishvili by thanking her “for taking the time to submit your comprehensive appeal.”

Though his language toward Tomic was considerably less cordial, Babcock agreed with Tomic’s assertion that the chair umpire, Mohamed Lahyani, “could and should have issued a code violation at numerous points during the match for lack of best efforts.”

Tomic contended that such an intervention would have given him a chance to adjust his behavior.

Tomic said he planned to further challenge the ruling against him, and he pledged to donate any money recouped to a charity in Australia, his home country.

“I don’t care about this 25 percent; I care about the right thing for players in the future,” Tomic said in a telephone interview Friday from Atlanta, where he will play in an ATP tournament next week.

Tomic took particular issue with Babcock’s refrain that he was required to use “best efforts at all times,” saying that conservation of energy and strategic tanking are part of the sport.

The new rule applies only to Grand Slam first-round matches, which have become loaded with outsize paychecks — even for defeats, essentially making the prize money an appearance fee.

On Thursday, the United States Open announced that it was increasing prize money for this year’s tournament. The prize money for first-round losers has gone up by 47 percent over the last four years, and now sits at $58,000.



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