September 27, 2023

Open Court


The ATP Challenger season ended Sunday, with two champions crowned in Portugal and Spain.

The women continue for a few more weeks, with WTA 125s in France and an ITF tournament that’s nearly as big in Dubai next week.

But as of Monday, all that late-season scrambling will either result in a spot in the Australian Open main draw. Or it won’t.

The deadline for the first Grand Slam tournament of the 2023 season falls tomorrow. And it appears that American Alycia Parks is the grand-prize winner.

Parks, 21, finished down the list for the USTA’s reciprocal wild card.

But she was No. 150 two weeks ago, and No. 134 coming into last week in Andorra at a WTA 125 there.

And Monday, she cracks the top 100 for the first time.

It may well be enough for the 21-year-old to get straight into the Australian Open.

Underline “may”. Monday is the entry deadline. And with all the players entered with protected rankings, the current cutoff is … 95.

Parks only took part in a Grand Slam for the first time at this summer’s US Open, where she fell in the first round of qualifying.

There wasn’t much indication the American was going to finish so strongly. She lost her opening match in 9-of-13 tournaments going in, with the notable exception a run at the Ostrava WTA 500 tournament in October when she qualified and upset Karolina Pliakova and Maria Sakkari before losing to eventual champion Barbora Krejcikova in the quarterfinals.

But here’s what she did.

A lot of players on the bubble

With this the last week before the deadline, there were an number of players on the women’s side out there trying to make that last push the last few weeks – even with the WTA main tour season over, there have been a number of WTA 125s and high-level ITFs.

Here’s what the landscape looks like, as of Monday.

Vondrousova, who missed some six months this year, has a protected ranking to fall back on but is likely to make the cut.

So are Kateryna Baindl and Dayana Yastremska, who moved up just enough.

As for the rest inside the top 110, it will be a scramble to see who doesn’t enter because of injury, and who may withdraw in the next few weeks.

Notably bad timiming was that of 18-year-old Linda Noskova, who dropped from No. 91 outside the top 100 after losing in three sets to Parks, in the first round in Andorra.

Noskova, who was outside the top 300 at the time, won a $25K event in late November 2021. And those points fall off on Monday.

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On the men’s side, Lajovic makes a move

Most of the players just outside the top 100 did not play last week.

But Dusan Lajovic, the 32-year-old Serb whose career high of No. 23 came in 2019, did.

Photo: USTA/Andrew Ong

Lajovic hadn’t played since losing in the first round of qualifying in Vienna in late October. But at No. 102, he knew he was borderline for Melbourne.

So he fired up the furnace again.

The first week didn’t go so well.

But last week in Spain, he won the title over Canadian Steven Diez in the final.

And in the process, he jumped from No. 103 to No. 80 – well within the cutoff.

A year ago, ranked in the top 35, he was representing Serbia in the Davis Cup finals. So props to him for being willing to grind into December to make it happen.

As for the rest of those 100-110 players, they’ll have to cross their fingers.

Notable among them are Canadian-Chilean Alejandro Tabilo, who had spent a significant amount of time in the top 100 but fell just out of it after failing to win back-to-back main draw matches since April.

Tabilo did get the opportunity to play an exhibition in Chile against Rafael Nadal a week ago. So there’s that.

Fucsovics gets the job done

Veteran Marton Fucsovics was at No. 109 in early November, very much in doubt to make the cut in Melbourne.

The former world No. 31 won a Challenger in Bratislava and then, a few weeks later, made the semis of another in Andria, Italy.

That brought him up to No. 80, safe and sound.

Honorable mention to Marco Cecchinato, who sat at No. 146 after the US Open, but got himself up to No. 104.

(Photo: Andrew Ong/USTA)

And, especially, to Zhang Zhizhen, who stood at No. 281 in July and now is right around that top 100 mark – all done with only nine matches at the ATP Tour level all year.

At 26, Zhang has only even played a total of six times in Grand Slam events. He qualified twice – at Wimbledon in 2021 and last summer at the US Open, where he put a scare into Tim Van Rijthoven before falling in five sets in the first round.

With any luck at all, he’ll be making his Australian Open debut, and on his own ranking as well.

Canadian update

Here are Monday’s standings on the Canadian side of things.

Diez’s effort to reach the Challenger final last week might well squeeze him into the Australian Open qualifying. But it will be tight.

He should join Davis Cup super-subs Alexis Galarneau and Gabriel Diallo, who will add to the Quebec content and make their Grand Slam debuts in the qualies.

On the women’s side, not a ton of change – or players in action recently.

Rebecca Marino’s successful 2022 means she leaves Slam qualifying behind her.

Carol Zhao and Katherine Sebov (assuming she can swing it financially) should be in the qualifying along with Genie Bouchard, who will need to use her second (and final) protected ranking opportunity in Melbourne.

Leylah Fernandez’s little sister Bianca, 18, moves up more than 50 spots and into the top 800 with a semifinal effort at a $15K ITF in Santo Domingo two weeks ago, although she retired in the second set of that match.

But she recovered to play another one this week, and made the semis again – as the No. 4 seed, she lost 7-5 in the third set to top seed Jenna DeFalco.

That’s another four ranking points that will go on her record in a week’s time. And that should move her up another 30 spots and close to her career high of No. 735, reached in October.

We were told that the younger Fernandez had been seriously considering going the college tennis route (which would have been a great move), but changed her mind. It appears she will be giving pro tennis a shot.

For the full, updated WTA Tour rankings, click here.

For the full, updated ATP Tour rankings, click here.

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