April 14, 2024

Open Court


Tennis Australia’s contrasting wild-card policy

When the French Tennis Federation did it, we thought it was just their own, unique take on the difference between men’s and women’s tennis.

But now, Tennis Australia has followed suit.

The national federation has wild cards to give in both the men’s and women’s singles draws at the US Open. The reciprocal agreement also includes the French Open (but not Wimbledon).

It has unilaterally decided to bestow that wild card upon 25-year-old Jason Kubler.

Kubler is currently ranked No. 109, on the cusp of getting in on his own. He has jumped more than 200 spots since the beginning of the season.

“Jason is not that far out of the top 100, and close to direct entry into the main draw. He qualified for Wimbledon and he’s absolutely heading in the right direction and achieving the results he needs,” Tennis Australia high-performance director Wally Masur said in a statement. “Jason’s many injury struggles have been well documented and it takes an enormous amount of dedication and perseverance to overcome the setbacks he’s experienced.”

The Aussies have seven players slated for the US Open qualifying. James Duckworth, Bernard Tomic, Alex Bolt, Marc Polmans, John-Patrick Smith, Thanasi Kokkinakis and Max Purcell will all head to Flushing Meadows next week.

Why Kubler would be chosen over, for example, Thanasi Kokkinaki,  is anyone’s guess.

Kokkinakis is younger, has a much higher career-best ranking, is on the comeback trail after shoulder surgery and just won a hard-court Challenger in Aptos, California last week.

And that’s no offense to Kubler, whose comeback story is inspirational.

A real head-scratcher

But the contrast is this: Tennis Australia is not following the same policy in awarding its women’s singles wild card.

It is making the Aussie women play off for the right. The tournament will be held this weekend at the site of the Connecticut Open in New Haven. 

This isn’t anything new. They did it a year ago. Arina Rodionova was the top seed, and the winner.

Luckily, 2011 US Open champion Samantha Stosur, who was briefly outside the top 100 in June, rallied her ranking in time to make the cut in New York. You can’t imagine they wouldn’t have offered her the wild card, if she needed it.

But you never know.

Idem for les Français

A few weeks ago, the French Federation bestowed its reciprocal wild card upon Corentin Moutet.

Moutet, like Kubler, wasn’t that far out of making the main draw on his own.

But the federation also made its female players go through a playoff. And it was a super-secret one, for which little information was available before or during the event.

The field included Fiona Ferro, a 21-year-old who was on form, with a ranking not that far below that of Moutet.

Ferro didn’t win. Harmony Tan, currently the 18th-ranked player in France at No. 393, had a good run and earned it.


Players can’t compete this week

One practical issue with this unequal treatment is this: the boys can compete this week to try to earn ranking points and prize money, because there’s no commitment needed to a playoff tournament.

But the women can’t.

They have to make sure they’re available to train and be in Connecticut for the Friday start of the event. And winning the three matches required is no slam-dunk. Only one of them will come out with a prize.

And if they want a shot at the wild card, they have to make the very expensive trip to the U.S. just to have a shot. It might well be more cost-effective and potentially more rewarding to choose another schedule.

Aussie men all over Vancouver this week

There are five Aussie men in the main draw of the Vancouver Challenger this week: Kokkinakis, Polmans, Bolt, Kubler and Jordan Thompson. Luke Saville, Aleksandar Vukic and Jacob Grills were in the qualifying, and Purcell and Matt Reid are in the doubles draw.

Four Aussie women – Jaimee Fourlis, Priscilla Hon, Maddison Inglis and Kimberly Birrell – were in the Vancouver qualifying on the women’s side, but none made it through. Only one, Inglis, is entered in the doubles. 

All will have to travel across the country and then prepare for the playoff.

The three top-ranked Aussie women who didn’t make the US Open main draw cutoff – Arina RodionovaOlivia Rogowska and Lizette Cabrera, all withdrew from Vancouver.

Rodionova (left) and fellow Aussie Ellen Perez in Granby during an ITF Pro Circuit event last month. The pair won the doubles title, and Rodionova reached the singles final. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Obviously there are rankings differences involved. Rodionova, at No. 153, is the highest-ranked woman not to get into the US Open main draw. 

And no doubt they have their reasons.

But the whole process seems unfair – especially compared to the USTA, which has both its male and female players compete for a wild card during the hard-court summer.

The players earn points at Challengers and Tour events, with the top point-earners on both the men’s and women’s side getting a wild card.

(It should be said, though, that even that method isn’t quite equitable. The men have many more tournaments that are eligible to be counted in their points tally).

The eight-woman draw for the Aussie wild-card playoff will be released shortly.

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