Gaining entry into the year’s first Grand Slam is getting harder all the time, with just four discretionary Australian Open wildcards available to male and female players. These are typically reserved for local players who show outstanding promise, marked improvement or impressive form in the season preceding the tournament. But that’s not always a given. Tournament organisers chose to award wildcards to Swiss Martina Hingis (in 2006) and Belgian Justine Henin (in 2010) when the female greats decided to make their comebacks to professional tennis during the Australian summer.
The moral of the story is that Australian Open discretionary wildcards are not to be expected. Those in the running display some worthy credentials, and there are plenty in the mix. We take a look at several contenders:
Ashleigh Barty: the prodigious 16-year-old shaved her ranking from No.682 to its current mark of No.175 in 2012 The Queenslander won four ITF titles during the past season – most notably the $50,000 event on grass in Nottingham – and contested the main draw at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon. Barty gained her passage into the 2012 Australian Open by winning last year’s Play-off as an unseeded 15-year-old, but in the 2013 edition she played an uncharacteristically poor match against eventual champ Bobusic, bundled out in the quarterfinals.
Olivia Rogowsk is another player to show great improvement in the last season, coming within striking distance of the top 100 and reaching her first WTA-level quarterfinal at Kuala Lumpur.
Jarmila Gajdosova, the former world No.25, endured a horror year. After splitting with her coach, suffering a spate of injuries and then losing her mother to cancer, the Victorian ended her season in September, having fallen from world No.33 in January to her current mark of No.184.
Sacha Jones: the New Zealander-turned-Australian slashed her ranking more than 100 places to briefly crack the top 150 in late 2012 (she is currently ranked No.172). Jones went 46-24 throughout the season and reached four ITF finals, winning three.
World No.139 Anastasia Rodionova and Australian Open Play-off finalist Monique Adamczak (also ranked inside the top 200) are other players who could make their case for a discretionary wildcard.
John Millman was ranked as low as No.560 in March yet raced back up the ladder after winning the Pro Tour event in Bendigo, reaching the Busan Challenger final and another Futures final, and capped off the year with a run to the Toyota Challenger semifinals, a result that saw him crack the top 200.
Having taken a break from tennis to play local football and undertake some coaching, Sam Groth returned to the competitive fold with renewed vigour, winning two ITF Futures titles and performing strongly at ATP Challenger level. The big-serving Victorian shot from No.768 in the beginning of the year to a career-high mark of No.210 in November. A setback came when, as the top seed, Groth fell in the opening round of the AO Play-off to emerging talent Nick Kyrgios.
The 17-year-old junior world No.4 was one of several rapidly-improving Aussie youngsters to enjoy success on the professional circuit in 2012, the others being Luke Saville and Alex Bolt.
Saville, 18 years old and a junior Wimbledon and Australian Open winner, rose to inside the world’s top 350 – having started the year ranked in the 1100s – thanks to winning ITF Futures titles in Thailand and Cairns and reaching another final in Traralgon.
Bolt,19, enjoyed plenty of success on the Australian Pro Tour, winning the title in Happy Valley and reaching the final in Esperance while also making a Futures final in Hong Kong. He went from world No.892 in January to now being ranked inside the world’s top 450.
Continuing on the theme of improvement, John-Patrick Smith caused waves with his win at the Winnetka Challenger in the United States, his performance as a qualifier vaulting him almost 100 places to a career-high mark of No.210 in July. The Queenslander, who now plays full time on the professional circuit after an extremely successful college career, is a talented lefty with plenty of tennis insiders singing his praises as both a competitor and a person.
While he may have dropped a little from his peak of world No.167 in May, James Duckworth remains a talented competitor worthy of further Grand Slam main draw opportunities. The 20-year-old won through to the second round of Australian Open 2012 and took world No.9 Janko Tipsarevic to four sets.
These are just a few of the leading contenders. Who do you think is worthy of a pass into Australian Open 2013?
Keep visiting AustralianOpen.com/tennis.com.au as we keep you updated on discretionary wildcard recipients as they are announced.