The Wimbledon wild cards have been announced and once again many British fans are outraged at the lack of British talent that is being supported by the All England Lawn Tennis Club.
As it stands, only six Brits have been offered one of the 18 wild cards to the singles main draws. Bright talents Paul Jubb, Jay Clarke, Katie Swan and Harriet Dart have been offered a chance to compete with the best, while James Ward and Heather Watson have also deservedly been handed another chance.
Iga Swiatek, who won the girls’ title last season, is deserving of a wild card, while Feliciano Lopez is another recognised stalwart of the game who should be in the main draw.
Marcos Baghdatis, the other player to be offered main draw access, has left some heads being scratched. If the idea of the wild cards is to make fans excited, is the experienced Cypriot, who reached the semi-finals 13 years ago, really going to get people excited? It’s doubtful. And if he is deserving of a main draw place, then surely the same should be said for Sabine Lisicki – a former finalist and fans’ favourite.
Even with Baghdatis being awarded a wild card, that still leaves seven opportunities for talented players, who aren’t able to make the cut directly. And while those ranked at 105 will feel they deserve more of a chance over someone ranked at 266, we need to question the real purpose of the wild cards.
Who deserves the wild cards?
It’s easy to just look at British players and offer the eight highest-ranked players, outside the top 100, a wild card. But that runs the risk of players feeling entitled to a main draw berth. Alex Bogdanovic, anyone? I don’t agree that all eight spaces should go to Brits, especially when there are players just outside the outright places from countries which host very few, if any, elite tournaments.
Players from countries developing lots of talent, such as Belarus, Czech Republic and Kazakhstan, deserve their chance at a Grand Slam tournament. So even if the AELTC is happy to send back some of the wild card places in favour of direct entrants, there is still an opportunity to offer at least one more Brit a space in both draws.
I think the AELTC should follow the Australian Open model, which sees five home grown players offered the chance to compete with the sport’s elite. Here, some of wild cards are offered via an internal selection process, with at least one spot left open from a wild card tournament. The other three are offered to USA, France and an Asia-Pacific player.
While I don’t agree that any Brit should be offered a wild card into the main draw, I do feel that they should be at least given a chance. The qualifying wild card play-offs are great, but why don’t the AELTC reward this mini-tournament with a place in the main draw instead?
The likes of Katy Dunne, Maia Lumsden, Fran Jones and Sam Murray have been in good recent form on the ITF tour, so why not let them play out for a place at Wimbledon? That way, they have ‘earned’ a place in the draw, freeing up at least one wild card spot in the qualifying and giving them a chance to earn more WTA experience at Eastbourne.
It worked for Australia, too. Kimberley Birrell reached the third round after playing the match of her life when defeating Donna Vekic. This from a player who advanced via the wild card play-offs.
There is a real sense of opportunity missed when it comes to Wimbledon wild cards, and this year is no difference. Here’s hoping that the AELTC changes it decision-making process in 2020, to allow more youngsters to make their Grand Slam breakthrough.