Imagine this: you’ve been on the WTA tour for thirteen years, won three grand slams, fifty-one singles titles and an Olympic gold medal. Early in the year you’re diagnosed with a bulging disk and while you’re recovering you get a concussion from a freak injury. You finally decide you’re ready to play the U.S. Open and ask for a wild card to San Diego and Montreal to play a few tune-ups before the Open – wild cards can be given to top ranked players if they decide to enter a tournament past the entry deadline. The head of the WTA, Larry Scott, says no, you can’t have one, you’re not eligible for a wild card. Meanwhile the Montreal tournament is desperate for players since Maria Sharapova dropped out leaving only four of the top ten players entered

The WTA has a huge problem on its hands. It can’t give tournament directors the top players they need to sell their tournaments. Too many players are injured or they’re too tired to play. The schedule is out of control and the level of play is so inconsistent that a player who retired three years ago due to a foot injury, Martina Hingis, looked at the field and decided that it’s not as competitive as it was before she retired. She returned at the beginning of the year and eight months into the season she’s in the top ten.

If he let her bend the rules, how could he get a handle on those unruly players like Sharapova who skipped Montreal because she was tired?

Lindsay Davenport is the player who had the bulging disk and the concussion and when she was ready to rejoin the tour and play in San Diego, Mr. Scott decided to use her as an example. If he let her bend the rules, how could he get a handle on those unruly players like Sharapova who skipped Montreal because she was tired?

What rules are we talking about here? WTA players sign a Player Commitment Contract (PCC) each year which commits a player to a minimum number of tournaments plus certain designated tournaments. Davenport didn’t want to sign a PCC for 2006 because she wasn’t sure she could play the minimum number of tournaments. According to rule II.D.2.c., one of the penalties for not signing a PCC is that she’s not eligible for wild cards.

There was another penalty if you want to call it that. Players receive compensation for signing the PCC. In Davenport’s case, because of her high ranking, she would have received $500, 000 if she’d signed a PCC for 2006. That means she was willing to forfeit half a million dollars to play a reduced schedule. Surely that’s punishment enough. By the way, Davenport is about half a million dollars from being the top prize money winner in women’s tennis history.

Wait a minute, you might ask, isn’t there a veteran’s exception rule or something like that? Indeed there is. Rule II. A. 2. allows the tour to confer Gold Exempt Emeritus Status on a player who has won a minimum of three slams or titles, has been ranked number one at least once in her career and has “demonstrated an exceptional level of commitment and excellence on the Tour over an extended period of time.” Such a player can receive unlimited wild cards.

Davenport satisfies all of those conditions and more, so what’s the problem? I left one condition out: “The player has provided at least 14 years of service to the Tour.” According to Liz Robbins’ interview with Davenport in the NY Times earlier this week, that rule was put in so that a semi-retired Monica Seles could play on the tour. I guess the tour felt that they owed her that much.

Davenport is owed that much too. Never mind that she loves the game so much that she’s dragged her retirement out for three years. After the 2003 Wimbledon, she said she might have played her last singles match because she had to take cortisone shots for a foot problem just to get on the court. After that injury she said that she’d retire rather than deal with another significant injury yet here she is after a bulging disk and a concussion. Meanwhile, she won six tournaments last year and played in two grand slam finals, the second one a heartbreaking loss to Venus Williams in one of the best Wimbledon finals ever played.

Sharapova was fined $150, 000 for skipping Montreal. That’s fair enough, it sends a message to other players that they can’t pull out of tournaments at the last minute. But what sense does it make to penalize Davenport, she wants to play in tournaments for heaven’s sake, she’s not pulling out. Clearly rule II.A.2. applies to Davenport’s current situation, she’s in semi-retirement after a long and illustrious career, and she should have received the exemption.

Davenport got into the tournament this week in New Haven through regular entry – she’ll play the final against Justine Henin-Hardenne tomorrow – but she should have had her pick of tournaments. She deserves to be treated the same way she’s treated tennis, with great love and appreciation.

You can read about similar problems with WTA players pulling out of a tournament here.

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