In women’s tennis, if you get an injury that you know will put you out of action for more than 6 months you can apply for a protected ranking. The WTA will take the ranking that you are at on that day and allow you to use it to enter tournaments on your return. Your ranking isn’t frozen… it will plummet, but at least you will be able to get in to the bigger tournaments when you return and give yourself the chance to earn bigger points for a leg back up. You are currently allowed to use your protected ranking for 8 tournaments and 1 Grand Slam within 9 months of your return to the game.
What I want to know is why in this day and age does this rule only apply to physical injuries? Mental illnesses are now starting to become recognised in the work place and the same should happen in tennis. If you have depression is it not ok to take time out? If you are grieving why should your ranking suffer? If you are ill and need help should you be penalised? My answer is no. Just because you can’t see depression like a broken bone, doesn’t make it any less real or mean that one would have any more control over it.
Of course you shouldn’t freeze your ranking… that never happens anyway. But if a player is suffering in one of these ways and needs 6 months to deal with it, aren’t they entitled to a few events with a protected ranking? It took me years to seek help for myself, mainly because I was so concerned with momentum, matches, points and my ranking. If I knew I would have had a bit of support in this area and wouldn’t have to start from scratch, I would have taken time out sooner, most likely not become as ill, and could have had a very different career. When I finally sought help, I fit as much of it in to 4 weeks as I could, before I felt forced to play again to stop my ranking from slipping further down and out of Grand Slam qualifying events.
Now one argument could be that people will abuse the system and take 6 months out to have a rest. My response is SO WHAT?! People can lie easily enough about a physical injury anyway, and if they want a rest let them have a rest! This is where tennis becomes relentless. The pressure to maintain peak physical and mental condition all year round… no other sport requires that. How impressive was it that Kvitova took a few months out to have a rest earlier this year? Just take a second to imagine the pressure she is under from tournament organisers who desperately want her there, sponsors that only get benefit if she is winning, agents that are trying to sell her image and increase her brand. Bravo for standing up and saying “I want a rest”. Hopefully other players will do the same. Women’s tennis is leading the world of sport in so many ways… lets lead in mental health as well.
Another group of player’s who could be allowed to access a protected ranking are Mum’s to be. Is it fair to ask every female player who wants a family to give up being a professional tennis player completely? The age of tennis is getting older and the likes of Clijsters and Bondarenko will happen more and more. Bondarenko has had to start from scratch after having her baby… and boy has she done well, but I can’t help feeling that she should have had a leg back up with some tournaments at a protected ranking. What would you say about giving her 5 tournaments at her protected ranking of 30? Is that fair? The system is designed to fast track you back to where you were and I think it is right that if you stop for longer than 6 months, for a legitimate reason that you should be allowed this extra help. Or do we think that all female tennis players should wait until they are 35+ to have kids? To be honest that age could keep increasing and to make it a straight choice between a child and your career is not fair.
We lost Clijsters from the game for too many years… maybe if this option was available to her we would have had her back sooner.