After Elena Rybakina hit out at the WTA for “changing the rules last moment” in awarding performance byes in Tokyo, we explain what exactly happened and why the world No. 5 was frustrated. Rybakina will not play at the WTA 500 Pan Pacific Open after pulling out as she needs “time to get to 100 per cent health”. She appeared annoyed to miss out on getting a first-round bye.
Elena Ryabakina will not compete at the WTA 500 Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo this week.
The world No. 5 has withdrawn from the tournament due to fitness reasons, saying: “I have to prioritise my health and fitness and need time to get to 100 per cent health.”
The withdrawal comes just a few days after Rybakina vented her annoyance at the tournament for not issuing her a first-round bye, while players ranked below her were given byes.
Rybakina was set to be the third seed but was not given a bye based on her ranking as the tournament is trialling ‘performance byes’.
Rybakina’s frustration at the move were supported by some, while others disagreed.
But what exactly was Rybakina’s grievance, what are performance byes, and who will be playing in Tokyo this week? We explain all.
WHY WAS RYBAKINA ANNOYED?
The standard format for WTA 500 tournaments is for the top four seeds to receive a first-round bye.
That means they do not play in the first couple of days of the event and enter in the second round.
At the Japan Open, the top four seeds were set to be Iga Swiatek, Jessica Pegula, Rybakina, and Maria Sakkari.
However, the tournament opted to use performance byes instead of the standard byes based on rankings.
Performance byes allow players who have performed well the previous week to directly enter into the second round of the following tournament so they have more time to adjust to the new time zone and conditions.
In this case, the performance byes were given to Sakkari and Caroline Garcia as they had reached the semi-finals last week in Guadalajara.
As Rybakina missed out on a bye, she was scheduled to play Linda Noskova on Monday.
“Performance bye. Thank you for changing the rules last moment,” wrote Rybakina on social media.
“Great decisions as always WTA.”
The sarcasm-laced post follows previous criticism from Rybakina towards the WTA. The former Wimbledon champion hit out at the WTA for showing “weak leadership” earlier this summer in their scheduling at the Canadian Open.
IS RYBAKINA RIGHT TO BE ANNOYED?
Rybakina’s claim that the WTA changed the rules “last moment” has been refuted.
Doubles player Nicole Melichar-Martinez, who is competing in Tokyo, wrote in response to a post about Rybakina on X: “But the rules weren’t changed in the last moment. That performance bye info was on the fact sheet.”
Performance byes have been used on the WTA Tour for over a decade.
In 2009, the four Rome semi-finalists received a bye into the second round of the following tournament in Madrid. There were also performance byes used at the China Open in 2014 and in Dubai in 2015, when the two finalists the previous week in Antwerp were given a place in the second round.
Rybakina, who did not play in Guadalajara as she decided to withdraw from the tournament, did receive some support following her latest criticism of the WTA.
Former doubles world No. 1 Rennae Stubbs wrote on X:
“I agree 100% with Rybakina!
“You pick your own schedule. You know what you’re risking, seeds should not be hurt for not playing the tournament the week before.”
WHO IS PLAYING IN TOKYO?
The headline name in Tokyo will be world No. 2 Swiatek.
Swiatek will be playing for the first time since losing her world No. 1 ranking at the US Open, and will open against either Nao Hibino or a qualifier.
Second seed Pegula is also playing her first tournament since the US Open and will start against either Cristina Bucsa or a qualifier.
Sakkari is coming off her first WTA 1000 win in Guadalajara.
World No. 1 Aryna Sabalenka and world No. 3 Coco Gauff will not be playing, but both are set to return at the WTA 1000 China Open next week.
Rybakina is also currently on the entry list.