Wild, Wild, Wildcards – Part 1


This is the first of a two part series on wildcards based on posting in the “Heavy Topspin” blog.  “Heavy Topspin” is a great blog.

On October 24th they posted an article called “What Grega Zemlja Can Tell Us About American Tennis”

Grega Zemlja

So who is Grega Zemlja?

Zemlja – a 26 year old Slovenian is currently the 50th ranked player in the world but don’t go looking for him in the Australian Open draw – he lost in the qualifiers.  Not in the French Open draw either – again lost in the qualifiers.  Wimbledon – beat Josh Godall of Great Britain in 4 sets and lost to Fernando Verdasco in 4 sets in the second round.  So for most of the year Zemlja was not exactly a top tennis player.  His ranking at the start of the year was 116th and he went into Wimbledon ranked 142nd.  At Newport, Zemlja lost in the first round to Rajeev Ram.  This is where the story takes a turn.  He played in 3 Challenger Tournaments in China and won 2 of them and went into the U.S. Open as a qualifier.  He beat Christian Harrison in the first round of Qualifiers and Yannick Mertens in the last round of Qualifiers.  Grega got to the Round of 32 in the Main Draw where he lost in straight sets to Janko Tipsarevic.  Next up, a Challenger in Istanbul where he got to the Semi’s.  Lost in the Qualifiers in Bejing and Shanghai.  Then it was on to the Erste Bank Open in Vienna – an ATP World Tour 250 event where he had to qualify, due to his ranking.  He started out with a win over #60 Xavier Malisse, then Matthew Ebden (#120), then 20th ranked Tommy Haas and on to a rematch with Janko Tipsarevic – #9 in the world.  This time it was Zemlja who came out on top.  He lost in the finals to #8 Juan Martin Del Potro.

Janko Tipsarevic

In his entire career Zemlja has received exactly one wildcard and that was into a Challenger event.  By contrast, Donald Young has already received 27 wildcards.  Most of those were given to him by Patrick McEnroe, who himself got 37 wildcards throughout his career.  Almost 20% of all wildcards given out to the current top 200 players were given to 7 Americans while Janko Tipsarevic got no wildcards before his 25th birthday (Djokovic and Ferrer got 1).

The author has a proposal:

… a version of how Zemlja got into Wimbledon.  He won the Nottingham challenger two weeks previous, and the  AELTC  (All England Lawn Tennis Associationwasn’t going to give away all the free spots to Brits.  The Slovenian was a deserving up-and-comer, even though he doesn’t play under the right flag.

Perhaps every Slam and Masters event should reserve a spot for the winner of a corresponding challenger.  Or every tournament with a 48-or-bigger draw should be required to hand at least one wild card to a non-national.

Read the whole article – HERE

A follow up posting was titled “How much do Wildcards Matter?”

In that article, the author looks at Jack Sock (American) and Diego Sebastian Schwartzman of Argentina.

Jack Sock with Trophy – 2011

– To get a sense of the effect, let’s take a look at Jack Sock, the most gifted recipient of wild cards in 2012.  He entered seven tour-level events this year, all on free passes.  (He was also wildcarded into another three challengers and the Cincinnati Masters qualifying draw.)  If you take away the wild cards, he would’ve played a couple of challengers, some qualifying draws for US 250s, leaving him to fill most of his calendar with futures.

As it is, Sock has boosted his ranking from 381 to 164 in a single year, earning $137,000 along the way.  About half of that comes from his third-round showing at the US Open, which required him to beat Florian Mayer (who retired) and Flavio Cipolla, not a particularly tall order (as it were).  Another $27,000 came entirely from first-round losses–tournaments that he didn’t earn his way into, and where he failed to win a match.

– In terms of on-court performance, Schwartzman may well have had a better 2012 than Sock did.  The Argentine won six Futures events on the South American clay, and he added another four doubles titles at that level.  He wasn’t nearly as successful at the next level, going 5-10 in Challenger and ATP qualifiying matches.  Perhaps he was a bit worn down from his 49 Futures singles matches this year.

It’s an open question whether Sock or Schwartzman had the more impressive year.  Some might prefer the American’s challenger title and handful of top-100 scalps; others would prefer Schwartzman’s 30-match winning streak at the Futures level.

But here’s the kicker: While Sock made $137,000 and raised his ranking to #164, Schwartzman made $17,000 and is currently ranked #245.  By showing up at the Indian Wells Masters and losing in the first round, Sock made about as much money as Schwartzman did by winning six tournaments.

The most telling point in the article was actually in the comments:

Tom Welsh

Yet again, Murphy’s law strikes! Last week Sock sagged 4 places to 159, while Schwartzman soared 60 places to 173. So they are now just 14 places apart. Of course, Schwartzman’s sudden success was largely due to winning Buenos Aires (90 points, $10,800) after disappointing performances at Campinas, San Juan, and Villa Allende. Previously in August he had won the Argentine F20, F21 and F22 tournaments in succession for a total haul of 54 points and $3,900! Although their ranking was lower, his opponents in those tournaments don’t seem to me that less formidable than those he beat in Buenos Aires.

In the medium to long term, I expect Schwartzman to be more successful than Sock. He has had to fight – ferociously and tenaciously – for his success, and he has earned every single point in a tough uphill battle.

Read the whole article – HERE

Look for the follow up article in this blog.

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