Katie Boulter’s visit to Roland Garros ended in a sharp getaway on Friday, as the British No. 2 declined the opportunity to answer questions about her controversial £20,323 pay packet.
Having watched her friend and Fed Cup team-mate Katie Swan lose in the final round of qualifying, Boulter left Court 12 at maximum speed – surprisingly fast, in fact, for a woman who is understood to be suffering from a spinal stress fracture. She swept past reporters with a hasty “Sorry!” instead of stopping to explain why she had allowed her name to appear in Friday’s French Open draw.
It was the latest awkward moment in what has been a poorly handled weekend. Boulter is a charismatic performer with an admirable fighting spirit, whose six straight Fed Cup victories this year have helped to catapult Great Britain back into the World Group for the first time in 26 years.
But if she was so determined to squeeze the maximum prizemoney out of her ranking – which is what this visit was about – she would have been better advised to be more open about it.
Instead, Boulter’s management agency Kin – who also work with major footballing names such as David Beckham and Neymar – claimed on Friday that Boulter had travelled to Paris in the hope of pushing through her spinal injury, only for her medical team to advise against it at the last moment. This seemed unconvincing, considering that Boulter’s condition was previously reported to be serious enough to threaten her whole tennis summer.
So disappointed to have to pull out of the French Open. I was still hoping to have a chance of competing but doctors have advised me not to take a risk with my back. Can’t wait to get back on court soon.— Katie Boulter (@KatieBoulter1) May 24, 2019
Boulter was not in Paris just to support Swan, but because she needed to report onsite in order to receive her prizemoney. This is one of the requirements of a new rule designed to prevent half-fit players struggling their way through their opening match – and often retiring midway – just so that they could collect their winnings.
The rule states that, if you arrive up to four days in advance and receive a medical certificate from the tournament doctor, you can pass your place on to a “lucky loser” from qualifying. As an extra incentive, the two of you then split the prizemoney for first-round losers – which stands at £40,647 in Paris this year – down the middle.
The rule was intended for people who are humming and hahing over their ability to play, rather than those with long-term injuries. But in Boulter’s case, her back problem has already kept her off the match court since her memorable win over Kazakhstan’s Zarina Diyas in the Fed Cup World Group play-off on April 21.
Even so, Boulter could legitimately have argued that she has worked hard for her place close to the top 100 (she recently slipped back to No. 112, owing to two months of inactivity) and is thus entitled to any ancillary benefits. Instead, she and her managers have remained evasive, in a way which has not gone down well in the locker-room.
The person who has most reason to complain is Stefanie Voegele, the Swiss world No. 95 who would have been the next player into the main draw if Boulter had not claimed a place. Instead, Voegele was forced to try her luck in the qualifying tournament, where she lost in the first round to China’s Shilin Xu.
Even if Boulter was determined to claim her financial entitlement, she could have avoided some of the debate by arriving here on Wednesday – when she was photographed with former Wimbledon junior champion Laura Robson at the Chelsea Flower Show – and thus avoiding the ripple of surprise that followed the appearance of her name at Friday night’s draw ceremony.
“It is definitely within the rules,” said French Open supervisor Stefan Fransson on Friday, when asked about Boulter’s payday. “People might have different opinions on whether you are entitled to the half pay if you are ranked highly enough to play at a slam. But we don’t have any extra rule about whether you played in the last month or something like that.”
Swan’s 6-4, 7-5 defeat to Kristina Kucova on Court 12 meant that there were no British qualifiers to join the four players who earned places in the main draw by right. British No. 2 Cameron Norrie also lost his expected first-round opponent last night when Nick Kyrgios withdrew, citing illness. Norrie will play qualifier Elliot Benchetrit of France instead.