Under the new rules, any player who competes in a first-round singles match and retires or performs below professional standards may be subject to a fine, which could be up to all of the player’s first-round prize money. It is not clear who would determine what is “below professional standards.”
The rule, which will be used at the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the United States Open, is a variation of one introduced this year by the ATP Tour, which grants 100 percent of the first-round checks to a player who withdraws because of an injury.
“We were very happy with the way it worked,” said Justin Gimelstob, the player representative on the ATP’s board of directors. “It has been a successful initiative. It makes sure that the right players are competing at any given tournament and that injured players are afforded the ability to care for their bodies properly.”
The Grand Slam rule states that in order to get 50 percent of the prize money, a player must officially withdraw after noon on the Thursday before the tournament begins.
The Grand Slam Board also continued its push to improve the pace of play. During its two-day meeting in London, it voted unanimously to support the Australian Open’s petition to the International Tennis Federation to use a strict 25-second serve clock, which was tried out at certain events at the 2017 United States Open. The clock begins at the end of a point, and the server has 25 seconds to strike the ball. A player would be subject to warnings and eventually point penalties for clock violations.
But the board also added a new rule to prevent players from dawdling before the match begins. They will now have one minute after they walk onto the court to be ready for the prematch meeting, and one minute to be ready to play after the five-minute warm-up. The announcement said the rule “will be strictly enforced” and violators can be fined up to $20,000.
Another significant change will not be implemented until next year. All four major tournaments intend to reduce the number of seeds in the main singles draws to 16 from 32 in 2019, potentially creating more danger for the higher seeds in the early rounds.
The seedings system is designed to evenly disperse the top players in the 128-player draw so that they will not meet until the later rounds. The more seeds, the less probability of top players facing off in the early rounds. But in 2019, with fewer seeds, the 17th-ranked player could be randomly drawn to play the No. 1 seed in the first round.
There have been 32 seeds at the Grand Slam tournaments since 2001. The new format will increase the chances of more competitive matches in the early rounds, but could potentially reduce the likelihood of marquee matchups later in the draws.
If the system had been in effect for this year’s United States Open, No. 17-seeded San Querrey could have faced No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the first round. With the current 32-seed system, both players reached the quarterfinals.