The Merits of “Home” Wild Cards

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Photo Credit: Zimbio & Graham Denholm/Getty Images AsiaPac

The tennis world was first introduced to Olivia Rogowska when she pushed then-World No. 1 Dinara Safina to the limit in the first round at the 2009 US Open. An 18-year old, Rogowska played with the reckless abandon one would expect from a teenager in her first professional season. Safina recovered from an 0-3, 15-40 deficit in the third set and escaped with a 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-4 win.

At the 2009 US Open, Rogowska was a wild card – a position she has since become quite familiar with in her five professional seasons. However, with a career-high ranking of No. 111, current ranking of No. 172 and career earnings of just $486,920, she’s received little career benefit from those handouts. With a 6-3, 7-5 loss to Kimiko Date-Krumm in the first round of the Brisbane International this afternoon, Rogowska’s WTA record as a wild card in Australia falls to 1-12.

Brisbane

2014: R1 – l. to Kimiko Date-Krumm 6-3, 7-5

2013: R1 – l. to (Q) Monica Puig 6-2, 6-3

2012: R1 – l. to Barbora Zahlavova Strycova 6-2, 4-6, 6-4

Hobart

2011: R1 – l. to (Q) Tamira Paszek 6-1, 6-3

2010: R1 – l. to (2) Shahar Peer 6-3, 6-2

2009: R1 – l. to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-3, 6-1

Sydney

2013: R1 – l to Maria Kirilenko 7-5, 6-2

Australian Open

2013: R1 – l. to (Q) Vesna Dolonc 5-7, 7-5, 8-6

2012: R1 – d. Sofia Arvidsson 6-3, 6-1 | R2 – l. to (5) Li Na 6-2, 6-2

2011: R1 – l. to Evgeniya Rodina 6-3, 6-1

2010: R1 – l. to Sorana Cirstea 6-3, 2-6, 6-2

2009: R1 –  l. to (31) Alona Bondarenko 5-7, 6-3, 6-2

In addition, Rogowska has received the reciprocal Australian wild card at the other three slams three times. As a wild card at Roland Garros and the US Open, she has recorded an overall record of 1-3.

While this is not necessarily an indictment on Rogowska herself, her situation represents one that has become all too common. Players from the four Grand Slam nations have long been the beneficiary of nearly-unlimited wild cards when the opportunity arises, regardless of deciding factors including age, ability level and recent results.  Rogowska played out of her skin for a set and a half against a crumbling Safina nearly five years ago, and has ridden that result (of a match she lost) even since. Often, she’s continually placed in draws where she’s out of her depth and has failed more often than she has succeeded. As a result, she’s achieved little momentum in her professional career.

One Australian player who didn’t receive a main draw wild card into the Brisbane International is Ashleigh Barty. She received a wild card to the qualifying draw instead. Barty, the 17-year old wunderkind who reached three Grand Slam doubles finals last year with Casey Dellacqua, has struggled to make inroads in singles on the women’s tour. After battling past Cagla Buyukakcay 7-5, 6-7(4), 6-3 in the opening round, she defeated sixth-seeded Julia Glushko 6-3, 6-2 to move into the final round of qualifying. In the final round, Barty saved five match points in defeating Kiki Bertens, 2-6, 6-3, 7-5.

Two fairly young players (Barty, 17 & Rogowska, 22), two different situations. Even if Barty also loses her first match in the main draw, she would leave Brisbane with a lot more confidence and momentum than Rogowska.

With this not a unique situation, it becomes a question of whether or not the wild card system itself is flawed. Does a concept meant to give players an opportunity that they might not get otherwise end up doing more harm than good?

The Year Australia Fell in Love With Jelena Dokic

Photo credit: Zimbio & Quinn Rooney/Getty Images AsiaPac

Photo credit: Zimbio & Quinn Rooney/Getty Images AsiaPac

When Jelena Dokic arrived in Melbourne Park in January of 2009, all she had left was her story.

More than a decade removed from her professional debut, Dokic had been languishing around in proverbial limbo since dropping out of the top 100 in 2004. She fell off the WTA rankings following a 2007 season where she played just one match, a 6-2, 6-4 first-round loss to Giulia Gatto-Monticone in an ITF $10,000 event in Rome, and earned $98. After cutting off all ties with her controversial father, Damir, and pleading Tennis Australia for help, Dokic recommitted herself and made a full-time return to competitive tennis in 2008. She won three titles on the ITF Circuit (including a 25K in Germany where she defeated Michelle Gerards 6-0, 6-0 in the final), and decided she was ready to test the waters at Grand Slam level once again.

She emerged from the round robin stage of the Australian Open wildcard playoffs with a 2-1 record and defeated Monika Wejnert in the final match to earn a spot in the main draw of the 2009 Australian Open.

Ranked No. 187, Dokic’s 2009 Australian Open campaign began on Hisense Arena against Tamira Paszek. Paszek was fighting her own demons, as just one year earlier, she participated in possibly one of the most dramatic matches in the history of the tournament on that very same court. In a battle of two-handed backhands, it was Dokic who prevailed over an opponent ranked 107 places higher than her in three sets, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.

It was Dokic’s first win in a Grand Slam since 2003 and at the event itself in 10 years. To put it in context, Dokic was 15 when she had last won a match at the Australian Open. She had not yet defected back to her family’s native Yugoslavia, nor had yet she returned to her adopted homeland proclaiming herself truly Australian. Despite her rocky relationship history with her adopted homeland, as the match against Paszek went on, the Australians began to pull their support behind Dokic more and more.

“I don’t know when was the last time that the crowd was really like that,” she said post-match.

Dokic returned to Rod Laver Arena for the first time in eight years two nights later, when she faced off against No. 17 (and equally tragic tennis heroine) Anna Chakvetadze. In her player’s box sat only her boyfriend Tim Bikic and his brother and her new coach, Borna Bikic. That didn’t seem to matter for Dokic, because for the first time, she also had nearly 15,000 strong in her corner as well.

I came back I think two or three years ago to Australia, and obviously the crowd, I didn’t expect them to be on my side and to understand what happened seven years ago. You know, each year it’s gotten better and better.

After serving for the match at 6-4 5-3, Dokic proceeded to lose the second set in a tiebreak before rebounding to take the match 6-4, 6-7, 6-3. An emotional Dokic broke down in her post-match interview, recognizing just how much the crowd support meant to her.

To quote Maria Sharapova, Rod Laver Arena became Dokic’s home for the rest of the tournament as she battled her way through two more three-setters against No. 11 Caroline Wozniacki and No. 29 Alisa Kleybanova (two-part highlights here and here) to reach the quarterfinals of a major for the first time since Roland Garros in 2002, when she played for Yugoslavia. It was her first final eight showing as an Australian since Wimbledon in 2000. Far from her peak fitness, Dokic consistently remarked how much the crowd played a part in pulling her through.

After rolling her ankle late in the third set against Kleybanova, Dokic’s fairytale run came to an end at the hands of Dinara Safina in the quarterfinals, 6-4 4-6 6-4.

In the five years since her magical showing Down Under, Dokic’s still been riding the roller coaster that’s defined her career. After finishing 2009 at No. 57, her highest ranking since 2003, she shot down the rankings just as quickly in 2010. She returned to the top 100 in 2011, won her first WTA title in nearly nine years in Kuala Lumpur and also reached the final in ‘s-Hertogenbosch before losing to Roberta Vinci. However, it was in 2011 that things began to unravel for Dokic. She struggled that season with mononucleosis, a hamstring injury and a right shoulder injury. It was a wrist injury that proved to be her undoing in 2012, one that required surgery.

Now unranked once again, Dokic will play her first competitive tennis match in 18 months today, again at the annual Australian Open wildcard playoff hosted by Tennis Australia. Her opponent in the first round? Jarmila Gajdosova, who’s looking to script a comeback of her own after being sidelined with mononucleosis herself for much of 2013.

“I think it’s always the same – the love for the game,” Dokic told The Australian. “I don’t think that ever changes…I don’t really care as much whether I win, whether I lose and how I play, I just want to be out there and have that feeling again of competing and being nervous and adrenaline and everything.”

Although all of Australia might not be watching when Dokic takes the court Tuesday in the shadow of Rod Laver Arena, whatever happens next is just another chapter in her story.

Get it Right: Grunting & Hindrance

I always tell myself that I’m never going to get involved with the two most ridiculous debates in tennis, grunting and equal prize money, but just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.

Let me preface this by saying this is not going to be a rant about the aesthetics of grunting. Some find it annoying, while others, such as myself, aren’t bothered by it at all. That’s completely acceptable; I’m not here to force my opinion on others, nor would I appreciate others forcing their opinion on me. However, I am here to address facts.

It is because of this that I felt the need to write this, against my better judgement; despite the fact that this non-issue has already been beaten to hell and back, the commentary on it points towards another, even more glaring issue in tennis.

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Quick Quotes: Players Almost Melt in Obscene Australian Heat

1826542,h=425,pd=1,w=620The weather was the real story on day four at Melbourne Park; players were put to the test in brutal conditions, with temperatures reaching 106 F around midday. Fans sought cover in the shaded areas of the show courts, and many of the outer courts were devoid of spectators who sought relief from the heat. Players were shaded by umbrellas and treated with bags of ice on changeovers, and even umpires and lines people were instructed to keep themselves hydrated.

Later, many of the players spoke about the difficulties of adapting to the conditions.

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Jerzy Janowicz: Hot Mess Express

Since I’ve been getting into all sorts of fun and shenanigans over at TennisGrandstand during the Australian Open fortnight, I’ve been neglecting my usual duties. Namely, being snarky and obnoxious in response to players being snarky and obnoxious.

The Jerzy Janowicz hype train pulled into Melbourne, as the Pole entered his first Grand Slam as a seeded player this fortnight. Janowicz’s run to the finals of the Masters 1000 series event in Paris was one of the stories of the end of the 2012 season but I’m not completely sold on him.

This might be why.

Q.  Have you gone as nuts as that in a match before?
JERZY JANOWICZ:  Yeah (smiling).
Q.  Have you hit the umpire’s chair before?
JERZY JANOWICZ:  Maybe (smiling).

He faced off in the second round against Somdev Devvarman on Court 8; although Court 8 is a TV court, it doesn’t have Hawkeye installed.

Largely uninteresting at the start, the pair traded breaks and ended up in a tiebreak mostly because of Janowicz’s deluge of unforced errors. That’s when things got weird.

What followed was one of the most ridiculous and unnecessary displays I’ve ever seen. Oh, and Janowicz had a total freakout.

Devvarman raced out to a 5-1* lead in the tiebreak, but the Pole would win five points in a row to take a  6-5* lead. Each player would have multiple set points until Devvarman found himself serving at 9-8* down in the breaker. Behind a second serve, Devvarman hit a forehand down the line which is called in. I don’t speak Polish, but I’d imagine Janowicz to be lamenting about [Mean Girls reference] being personally victimized by the officials. [/Mean Girls reference]

In case you haven’t seen it, and god knows who hasn’t following the Australian Open’s shameless self-promotion of the entire incident, behold.

Peak Marija Cicak slaying as usual. Her IDGAF attitude during Janowicz’s meltdown is hilarious. Even when he hit her chair. For the record, Cicak also ignored a much more polite rant from Devvarman earlier in the set. You dun mess.

Despite the hype train being derailed by the Hot Mess Express, Janowicz would rally to win in five sets, 67(10) 36 61 60 75.

HOW MANY TIMES?! ….. has he done this? Never, apparently.

Q.  Have you come back down 2 Love before?
JERZY JANOWICZ:  No, this is my first time.