Caroline Garcia and Maria Sakkari have defended the use of performance byes at the Toray Pan Pacific Open. This came after Elena Rybakina withdrew from the WTA 500 tournament in the wake of her not receiving a bye despite being one of the top seeds.
Controversy occurred at the Ariake Coliseum in Tokyo, Japan, after the World No. 5, who was the third seed at the tournament, did not receive a bye in the first round. Instead, while first and second seeds Iga Swiatek and Jessica Pegula did get byes, Rybakina was left to face Linda Noskova in the first round.
The reason for this was made clear when the WTA revealed that they would be trialing performance byes at the Pan Pacific Open, which went to Garcia and Sakkari based on their performances at the Guadalajara Open last week. The French player made it to the semi-finals at the WTA 1000 event, while Sakkari went on to win the title, defeating Caroline Dolehide 7-5, 6-3 in the final.
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Sakkari and Garcia say performance byes are not new
Following the news that she would not receive a bye despite being the third seed, Rybakina criticized the WTA on social media.
"Performance bye. Thank you for changing the rules last moment. Great decisions as always @wta," the Kazakhstani player wrote on her Instagram stories. The 24-year-old subsequently withdrew from the tournament, saying that she had to prioritize her health.
However, Sakkari and Garcia have both defended the WTA's use of a performance bye, saying that this is something that players knew about in advance.
"This is not a new rule, I think it has been in place for about 14 years, and that's actually the case. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, this rule was temporarily removed. However, in the past, this performance bye was also used in Beijing.
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"We have already been aware of the fact that there will be a performance bye since the tournament will be held from Mexico to Tokyo for about 5 months. I was informed that performance byes are also applied when traveling from Tokyo to Beijing," Sakkari said in a press conference.
This was backed by Garcia, who said the rule was "necessary" due to the fact that her and Sakkari had traveled a long distance in the days immediately leading up to the tournament.
"It's a really long journey from Mexico to Japan, and considering the time difference, you'll lose two days. I think this rule is necessary because we have to continue playing under such circumstances. In the past, it was also adopted in Beijing and Wuhan.
"We knew in advance that there would be a performance bye at this tournament. We were informed of this, and I think this is important in order to maintain our rhythm," she said.