The 2019 WTA season will see the introduction of a new Special Ranking rule designed in conjunction with the Player's Council and approved by the Board of Directors to make returning to competition easier for players coming back after pregnancy, starting a family, or medical illness. The Board of Directors also approved new rules to provide greater consistency and speed up the pace of play in matches and modernize the existing attire rules.
In meetings held during the first week of December, the Board of Directors approved several amendments to the WTA Rulebook for the 2019 season, which were also supported by the WTA Players’ Council and Tournament Council.
1. Special Ranking Rule
The previous Special Ranking Rule, which allowed a player to freeze her ranking in the event of injury, illness, or pregnancy, required a player be out of competition for a minimum of 6 months and return to play within 3 years. A returning player could then use her special ranking for 8 tournaments to be completed within 1 year, though their special ranking could not be used for seeding purposes.
The Board of Directors approved a number of changes to the Special Ranking Rule, including adding a provision that allows a player to use her special ranking for seeding purposes at WTA events.
Under the new Special Ranking Rule:
- A player who is out of competition for more than 6 months but less than one year may use her special ranking for up to 8 tournaments in a one-year period.
- A player who is out of competition for one year or more may use her special ranking for up to 12 tournaments in a one-year period.
- If a player is out of competition due to pregnancy or a medical condition, she is allowed 3 years to use her special ranking. In the event of pregnancy, the time period is calculated from the birth of the child.
- If a player is out of competition due to adoption, surrogacy, or legal guardianship, she is allowed 2 years to use her special ranking.
- If a player's special ranking would earn a seeded position, that player will be drawn as an "additional seed" to play a non-seed in the first round. A ”additional seed” does not bump an otherwise seeded player.
- Upon her return, a player is eligible to use her special ranking for seeding purposes at the 1st 8 WTA tournaments she plays.
- A player may freeze her ranking up to two times. Under the previous rule, a player was allowed to freeze her ranking just once.
READ: WTA CEO Steve Simon hails 'progressive' approach to extended leave policy
2. Leggings and Compression shorts without a skirt approved
Though the WTA had no rule explicitly prohibiting a player from wearing leggings without a skirt, the Board of Directors approved language making the Tour's position regarding such attire explicitly clear: Leggings and mid-thigh-length compression shorts may be worn with or without a skirt, shorts, or dress.
3. 25 Second Shot Clock rollout
After trialing the rule during the US Open Series last summer, the WTA will continue to implement a 25-second shot clock at Premier events in 2019, with a full rollout for all WTA tournaments in 2020. Previously, the rulebook allowed for 20 seconds between points.
In addition to the shot clock, the WTA will codify the 1:5:1 pre-match warmup rule, which allows the players 1 minute to reach the net for the pre-match coin-toss, 5 minutes to warm up, and 1 minute to start play.
4. Reduced toilet breaks
Players will be allowed one toilet/change of attire break per match.
Previously, the rulebook allowed for up to 2 breaks per player per match.
5. Prize Money distribution on withdrawals
If a main draw singles player (excluding wildcards) is on site and withdraws from a tournament between the start of qualifying and her first-round match, the player is eligible for 100% of her first round prize money. This rule is designed to improve player health and competitive integrity by disincentivizing playing through injury and retiring mid-match.
The Lucky Loser who takes the player's spot in the main draw will receive either (a) final round qualifying prize money if she loses in her first main draw match, or (b) final round qualifying prize money plus main draw prize money from the round she reached, minus the first-round prize money that went to the withdrawing player.
A player may use this rule a maximum of 2 times per season at non-consecutive WTA tournaments.
6. 10 Years of Service Rule for additional wildcards
Currently, a player is allowed a maximum of 6 WTA wildcards a year, with allowances for additional wildcards under certain circumstances. If a player has played 10 years or more, they are allowed 3 additional wildcards.
Starting in 2019, a player must play at least 6 tournaments in a year for that year to count towards the 10 Year Service Rule. Previously a player had to play just one tournament for the year to count. This rule only applies to future seasons, as any years prior to 2019 are still counted according to the old rule.
7. Prize Money distribution at International and WTA 125K events
International-level tournaments offering prize money above the minimum but below $500,000 and WTA 125K Tournaments offering prize money above the minimum must distribute 100% of the prize money above the minimum to on-site prize money.