The 2018 Australian Open was driven by the implementation of new rules, reported by Léa Pelard
The first Grand Slam of the year implemented new rules set up by the International Tennis Federation. These measures have been taken to prevent controversial first-round withdrawals that have plagued tennis in recent years.
Players could lose their prize money if they retire from first-round singles matches at the Australian Open under the new rule change.
The new rules state that players who are unfit to play and who withdraw on-site before the start of the main draw will receive 50% of the first-round prize money. They will be replaced by the lucky losers from the qualifying tournament, who will receive the other 50% of the first-round prize money and play in the main draw.
Last year, Wimbledon Grand Slam experienced an increase in first-round withdrawals, with a total of 8 players retiring from the first round, including opponents of Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. “A player should not go on court if he knows he should not finish”, Federer said to the press at the time, while Djokovic noted his opponent even “had issues walking on to court”.
What does this rule change exactly?
With tens of thousands of euros are at stake just for playing the first round of Grand Slams main draw, €32,500 to be exact, early injury pull-outs are often suspicious. Thanks to the new rule, players who get sick or injure themselves a few days or hours before a Grand Slam can still receive a significant amount of money even if they don’t play, which will balance their expenses. It will avoid them to enter in the court knowing they won’t finish the match just to get the money.
Players who lost at the last round of qualifications will have a chance to replace those who injured themselves and play in the main draw. Alexis Musialek, ranked world No. 443 and former No. 255, welcomes the initiative: “It is a good measure because it allows a guy who lost at the last qualifications round to play in the main draw, and avoids an injured player to enter in the court and retire 30 minutes later just to get the money”.
The first benefits of the new lucky loser were shown during this year’s Australian Open. Some players who lost in the qualification draw had the possibility to replace others in the main draw. Among them, world No. 123 ranked American Bernarda Pera, was drafted in to the main draw and defeated the world No. 10 Johanna Konta.
Some of you might wonder what will happen to players who try to avoid this 50/50 rule, go to the court and play without giving their best?
One of the rule changes further specifies that players who perform “below professional standard” also risk being fined their prize money. It means that injured players who take the decision to go on the court, and play without really fighting to let their opponent win without retiring will be penalized as well.
World No. 32 Mischa Zverev was losing to Hyeon Chung 2-6, 1-4 in his first-round match of the Australian Open when he retired. Zverev was then fined €36,000 for a poor performance in his match against the South Korean player. It is the largest penalty ever given to a player during a Grand Slam tournament.
The rule changes have proven to be a success in this year’s Australian Open, with only one player having to retire mid-match. It is the lowest total in the first round of a Grand Slam in the last 10 years.