Professional tennis player Anna Tatishvili today appealed the Grand Slam Board's unprecedented sanction in connection with her first-round match at the 2019 French Open tennis tournament.
Ms. Tatishvili began her professional tennis career at age 15, and in 2012 reached a career-high world singles ranking of No. 50 and No. 59 in doubles. Ms. Tatishvili returned to professional competition at the 2019 French Open following a 31-month absence due to a serious ankle injury, multiple unsuccessful surgeries, and extensive rehabilitation. Ms. Tatishvili was eligible to compete at the French Open under a WTA Special Ranking Rule that "allows players who are sidelined with a long-term injury with the ability to return to competition to use their ranking at the time of the start of their absence."
On May 28, Ms. Tatishvili lost her first round match at the French Open 6-0, 6-1 against player Maria Sakkari —the No. 30 ranked women's singles player in the world. Citing a "First Round Performance Rule" adopted in 2018 that requires players coming back from injury or disability to play "at a professional standard," Grand Slam officials fined Ms. Tatishvili the entirety of her first round prize money on the grounds that: (1) she competed at the French Open with a Protected Ranking; (2) she had not previously played a tournament since October 2017; and (3) the match lasted 55 minutes.
Notably, a male player who also competed in the qualifying round at the 2019 French Open under a "Protected Ranking" had not previously played in a tournament since January 2017, and lost his match in 43 minutes, was not cited for a Code Violation and was not sanctioned.
"Today, I appealed the unfair and discriminatory sanction imposed on me by the Grand Slam Board following my first-round match at the French Open. This was my first match played in nearly three years, after multiple ankle surgeries and months of intense rehabilitation. I am proud of my performance against an outstanding opponent. I hold myself to the highest professional standards, and will do everything in my power to overturn this unprecedented sanction and restore my name," said Ms. Tatishvili.
The sanction against Ms. Tatishvili represents the first time that a professional tennis player has been fined for allegedly failing to play to a "professional standard" after completing their first round match.
The First Round Performance Rule does not define the term "professional standard," nor does it provide any guidance as to what it means to play to a "professional standard," where that standard comes from, or what factors or criteria are to be considered in assessing whether the player performed to the required "professional standard." Grand Slam officials also refused to explain to Ms. Tatishvili why they believed her performance fell below their "professional standard." Whatever "professional standard" may have been applied, Anna's performance on the court met the level expected of all tennis professionals. This is confirmed by the opinions of multiple tennis industry professionals, as well as statistical analysis provided by Scott Carr and Michal Malkiewicz at Ankura Consulting Group (acting on a pro bono basis).
"Anna has dedicated 20 years of her life to tennis with professionalism and fierce resolve. She was wrongly labeled as 'unprofessional' when she decided she was ready to return to competition, even though she was eligible to compete and was cleared for competition by French Open doctors," said Javier Rubinstein, a Kirkland & Ellis international dispute resolution partner, who represents Ms. Tatishvili on a pro bono basis. "This sanction violated Anna's rights as a professional athlete. We will do what is necessary to vindicate those rights and restore the reputation for excellence and integrity that Anna has built throughout her career."
Mr. Rubinstein continued, "If left to stand, the sanction imposed here also represents a dangerous precedent for the sport of tennis, sending the untenable message that a player's performance can and should be judged solely on the basis of the match's duration or the final score, while unfairly deterring players who are returning to competition from injury or disability from competing in Grand Slam tournaments."
In her appeal, Ms. Tatishvili requests that the Grand Slam Board vacate the Code Violation and imposed sanction in their entirety. The appeal will be heard by the Director of the Grand Slam Board.
The appeal document is available here.