Elena Rybakina’s coach drags Novak Djokovic into row after star slammed WTA

Elena Rybakina’s coach has waded into his charge’s row with the WTA after she slammed the introduction of performance byes in Tokyo. The world No 5 was left fuming when she was unable to receive the usual pass into the second round based on her seeding and later pulled out of the tournament for health reasons. Stefano Vukov has now appealed to Novak Djokovic’s Professional Tennis Players Association as he slammed the system and also “terrible marketing”.

The WTA has come under fire in recent days as Rybakina was left unhappy when she learned that she wouldn’t be receiving a bye at the Toray Pan Pacific Open despite being the third seed. Instead, the tour introduced performance byes – handing them out to players who went deep at a tournament the week before, with two in Tokyo going to Maria Sakkari and Caroline Garcia.

The 2022 Wimbledon champion claimed that the WTA changed the rules at the “last moment”. And just days later she withdrew from the tournament altogether, releasing a statement to clarify that her body needed to recover and stress that her withdrawal wasn’t related to her issue with the byes.

Rybakina’s long-time coach Vukov has now had his say, slamming the WTA for multiple issues as well as the performance byes as he dragged Djokovic’s PTPA into the debate. “Just to make things clear, there is no explanation of what a performance bye is,” he wrote on Instagram.

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“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?” Vukov also said the same rules failed to apply when Rybakina had a tight turnaround between tournaments in Europe and Asia last year.

He continued: “Last year we came from a final in Europe and played in Japan 2 days later and performance byes nowhere to be found. The issue is always the same lack of communication. This will also apply from Tokyo 500 to Beijing 1000 next week. 4 performance byes will be awarded.”

The 36-year-old then raised another issue as he claimed that players were forced to compete, even if they had already booked their spot in the season-ending WTA Finals like Rybakina had. “Most players have already qualified for the final 8, so for what reason should they even compete before Cancun,” he added.

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“The reason is that most tournaments are mandatory, and fines are given out to players if you don’t compete in them. Players always pay the consequences. The system doesn’t work.” Vukov then went on to criticise the WTA’s marketing strategy as they delayed posting about Rybakina’s WTA Finals qualification until weeks after she made the cut.

“The marketing is terrible as you can all see Elena qualified weeks ago, and just yesterday, @wta decided to post something. We need transparency. All players need to understand what is going on. Stop blaming players for mistakes made by the system itself. @ptpaplayers,” he concluded.

Vukov ended his rant by tagging the PTPA – an organisation co-founded by Djokovic and Vasek Pospisil to “create transparency and equity throughout professional tennis”. The Serb has long been vocal in his efforts to try and create better financial security for lower-ranked stars and to allow players to have more of a say in issues affecting them. 

It remains to be seen whether Djokovic or the PTPA responds to either Rybakina or Vukov, as Rybakina herself has already confirmed that she will voice her thoughts on the WTA again in the future. “The WTA topic is another topic, on which I have my opinions and will clearly voice them in the future,” the 24-year-old wrote in a statement on Monday.

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