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Revamp to tackle culture of wildcard handouts
By Linda Pearce
January 4, 2006
The vexed annual issue of wildcard distribution is the latest to fall under Tennis Australia's strict new policy of accountability, with the decision to replace the current subjective system having potential ramifications for players such as the injury-plagued Mark Philippoussis and veteran Nicole Pratt.
Tennis Australia's director of player development Craig Tiley believes Australia has suffered from an unhealthy culture of handouts, typified by the number of phone calls he has received from players asking which wildcards they can expect for the summer's six local tour events.
By next January, there will be virtually no discretionary wildcards available. The only exception could be at the Australian Open where commercial considerations may mean tournament organisers retain the right to allocate one or two main draw invitations. Otherwise, a definitive set of qualifying rules and standards will be in place next year.
For example, if players win two Challenger events in Australia they would know the reward is a wildcard into, say, Adelaide, and the player with the year's best overseas Challenger record would be assured of inclusion in the main draw in, perhaps, Sydney.
Tiley has already instituted a five-fold increase in wildcard play-offs around the country in his six months in the job, but the former South African Davis Cup captain believes greater change is still needed.
"A wildcard is a privilege, not a right, and my bottom line is if you have had a long list of wildcards and you haven't done much with them, your time's running out, in a sense," said Tiley, who pledged more support for younger players if all else is equal.
"My objective is to create more accountability from the players, so that you get what you deserve. Before we've had way too much of a culture of handouts — at the end of the day, players should get help based on what they have done, on their ranking and results.
"We need to reward players based on facts, not opinions, and there will no longer be a subjective process next year. If there's objectivity there's no arguments — the results will do the talking. So if someone like Mark Philippoussis is one of those players who deserves it, he will get the reward, but if not then he won't."
The host nation will have only two men (Lleyton Hewitt and Wayne Arthurs) and one women (Sam Stosur) as direct main-draw acceptors when the Australian Open starts on Monday week. Philippoussis, now ranked 171st but still a massive local drawcard, is the only local player promised a wildcard so far. The last handful of recipients will be decided by results-rankings-age criteria in consultation with Open management and announced by the end of the week. Tiley said it had to be questioned whether players whose rankings were too low to gain entry to qualifying events deserved main-draw entry.
Two years ago, 15-year-old Olivia Lukaczewicz was ranked 870th when she was thrashed in the Open's first round by world No .1 Justine Henin-Hardenne, while Scott Draper has benefited from more wildcard favours than most during his career.
The changes would not affect existing Australian Open arrangements such as the annual donation to Asian players and the reciprocal deal with the French Tennis Federation. Two men's and two women's wildcards are set aside for locals who win the training camp play-off or perform best on the Kia Pro Circuit.