The Case of the AO Wildcard – are Bendigo, Canberra, Traralgon and Playford the answer?

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If we aren’t attracting the best players eligible for this playoff, then something needs to change. What are your thoughts? Tweet us at @Ace_Previews to join the conversation.

In a time where the tennis tour is as wide and varied and as long as it has ever been, it must be an incredibly difficult decision to make regarding the AO Playoff this week. Do you put your body on the line, for no ranking or significant financial benefit (outside of the winner), for a 1-in-16 chance at claiming the wildcard?

Take the men’s draw for example this year, which had Australian players ranked from 160 (Alex Bolt) down to 786 (Brandon Walkin). With a large number deciding to sit out the week, it does bring in to question the risk-versus-reward aspect of the Playoff. For some it will pay off, however others such as Blake Mott (retired hurt vs Bolt Monday) have suffered as a result of the tournament.

Some of the men missing from the Playoff include Chris O’Connell, Marc Polmans, Thanasi Kokkinakis, Bernard Tomic and Matt Ebden. You could make a case that O’Connell and Polmans are the most deserving of wildcards into the main draw. With Andy Murray sitting outside the top 100 and not using his protected ranking, a very strong case could be made for a Murray wildcard as well. I would be very surprised if Murray came to Australia with the intention of qualifying for the main draw.

The fact the likes of Polmans and Kokkinakis are training in Melbourne currently and not participating in the playoff suggests a revamp is needed.

The same can be said for the women’s playoff, with a couple of notable absentees in Astra Sharma, Priscilla Hon and Zoe Hives. All are in the Top 200 but missing from the action this week. To be fair to the players, this playoff falls right in the middle of what is considered a very short off-season. As Sam Groth mentioned on ‘The First Serve’ last night, nobody wants to be peaking in the middle of December, especially with the Australian Open six weeks away.

I am all for problems with the current format being raised, so long as there are solutions discussed. After watching the Traralgon and Playford draws whittle away in October thanks to withdrawals, it got me thinking about the possibility of converting that fortnight into a mini-wildcard playoff. If the Australian that accumulated the most ranking points from the Traralgon/Playford fortnight was given the AO Wildcard, it would ensure we see strong fields in both tournaments and give players the off-season they need to refresh and recharge.

For the women, I would suggest a similar approach across the Bendigo/Canberra/Playford tournaments. It would be great that Playford, winners at the Newcombe Medal awards for ‘Most Outstanding Professional Tournament’, would have so much on the line for both the men and women to close the year.

What an opportunity for these tournaments to grow and attract the best Australian tennis players for both ranking points and the possibility of a wildcard.