Wildcard provides direct entry to a player in a tournament. Tennis around the world is controlled by rules and regulations of the International Tennis Federation. Well, in the case of Wild Cards, they have no say. National governing bodies make decisions related to their allotment.
This system generally draws debate among fans. Sometimes allotment looks fair, sometimes partisan. Typically, a Grand Slam hand over eight wildcards, an ATP 1000 Masters give 4-5, and ATP 500/250 award 3. Generally, The Director of the tournament holds the final authority.
Most of the time, wildcards are handed over to domestic players. About 20% of ATP tournaments take place in the USA. Little surprise, the maximum number of beneficiaries are US players. From the world of Tennis, Jack Sock, Steve Johnson, Ryan Harrison, James Black, Gael Monfils, Paul Henri Mathieu are some of the biggest beneficiaries of the scheme. In 2011, Lleyton Hewitt played every tournament due to Wildcard.
Proponents of it say that due to wildcard allotment to a domestic player, a tournament gets excellent support from the crowd. In all other competitions like World Cups or Olympics, the host nation always gets the advantage of fielding its team or players. So, Wildcard should be allowed to give a platform to local talent. But, it backfires because seldom a wildcard player goes deep in the draw.
Opponents argue that this system should be scrapped altogether. Rankings should be the only criteria. A ceiling on a nation or a player per season can be initiated. Age factors can be considered. A playoff among the contestants is a strong suggestion. Statistics before the tournament can make allotment more acceptable. The winner of the competition, before a big event, can be considered. Nottingham Challenger for The Wimbledon or Bordeaux Open for The French Open is such examples. In a nutshell, it should be more merit-based.
There are some happy stories related to Wildcard allotment. Goran Ivanisevic was World Number 125 in 2001. That was not enough to get an entry in the Wimbledon main draw. He was runners up on three occasions in the past. So, the Organizers picked him by Wildcard. He upset Andy Roddick, Greg Rusedski, Marat Safin, Tim Henman, and Pat Rafter (in the final). The reception that he got was perhaps the most emotional when he lifted the silverware.
Kim Clijsters retired from tennis in 2007. She had a baby. In 2009, she got a wildcard to compete in the US Open. She went on to lift the US Open. The last mother to win the GS event was Evonne Goolagong. Aptly, it was called ‘Mother of all comebacks.’ Jonathan Marray (not Murray) and Frederik Nielson won the 2012 Wimbledon Men’s Doubles title. They made entry by Wildcard.
The debate of a wildcard is quite open. It has supplied both embarrassing and encouraging moments. Maria Sharapova’s Wildcard in 2017 invited massive criticism as she had returned from suspension in 2016 only. Well, a more scientific approach could lead to a logical conclusion.
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