Elena Rybakina - US Open 2023

Elena Rybakina WTA ‘clown’ row continues with coach weighing in

Elena Rybakina has withdrawn from the Tokyo Open after claiming that the WTA were ‘changing the rules at the last moment’ and implying the organisation were ‘clowns’, and now her coach Stefan Vukov has had his say.

Rybakina has not competed since her third round defeat at the US Open Sorana Cirstea, and was scheduled to play in the Tokyo Open as the third seed.

However, she did not receive a bye to the second round, whereas fourth and fifth seeds Maria Sakkari and Caroline Garcia did.

This was due to a performance bye rule that is used based on results from a previous week, with both players competing in Guadalajara last week.

Sakkari was the champion at the Mexican WTA 1000 event and Garcia lost at the semi-final stage, so they were awarded these byes to help them manage the quick turnaround time, as well as the long journey from Mexico to Japan.

Rybakina expressed her disapproval of this rule on Instagram, “Performance bye. Thank you for changing the rules last moment. Great decisions as always @wta,” followed by clown and circus tent emoji.

Elena Rybakina - Instagram Story 2023

Despite the world No.5’s annoyance, it appears that performance byes have been part of the official WTA rulebook since 2009, when WTA 1000 events were first introduced.

Just two days later the 2022 Wimbledon champion announced that she would be withdrawing from the WTA 500 event in the Japanese capital, but insisted that it was not related to her gripes with the performance byes.

“As a player I want to give my all on court and at the moment my body is not ready to do that,” revealed Rybakina. 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.

She added, “The WTA topic is another topic, on which I have my opinions and will clearly voice them in future.”

Elena Rybakina - Instagram Story 2023

Rybakina has been struggling with illness and injury in recent months, and even admitted that she was ‘feeling destroyed’ after slamming WTA scheduling at the Canadian Open last month.

Elena Rybakina and her coaches statement

Stefan Vukov has coached Elena Rybakina since 2019, mentoring her to a Grand Slam title, two WTA 1000 titles and a career-high ranking of No.3 in the world.

And he has also expressed his frustration at the ‘lack of communication’ surrounding performance byes, “Just to make things clear, there is no explanation of what a performance bye is. 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 nowhere to be found.

Vukov continued, “The issue is always the same lack of communication. This will also apply from Tokyo 500 to Beijing 1000 next week. Four performance byes will be awarded.

“We need transparency. All players need to understand what is going on. Stop blaming players for mistakes made by the system itself.”

Stefan Vukov - Instagram Story 2023

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Matthew Johns, Tennishead Writer, is a professional tennis journalist with a specialist degree in Sports Journalism. He's a keen tennis player having represented his local club and University plus he's also a qualified tennis coach. Matthew has a deep knowledge of tennis especially the ATP Tour and thrives on breaking big tennis news stories for Tennishead.