Wildcard Playoff Worries – Who Gets the Golden Ticket?

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The victory from John-Patrick Smith has caused some serious headaches for Tennis Australia, with only a couple of main draw wildcard spots remaining.

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There were several headaches caused at Melbourne Park this week, and not just those caused by Liam Gallagher.

Those tasked with selecting the recipients of the Australian Open Wildcards would have been quietly cheering for Alex Bolt to win the week, making their decisions to close the year a little more straightforward. Instead, we have a bit of a problem on our hands.

Let’s take a look at the wildcard situation for the Australian Open in January:

1: Wildcard Playoff: John-Patrick Smith
2: Asia-Pacific Playoff: Tatsuma Ito
3: French WC – Hugo Gaston
4: USTA Wildcard Winner: Marcos Giron (or Michael Mmoh if Giron makes main draw on his ranking).
5: TBC
6: TBC
7: TBC
8: TBC

This leaves four potential opportunities. It is likely given the recent list of acceptances that Andy Murray will be a recipient of one wildcard.  Murray was unable to use his protected ranking for the tournament in 2020, and I think you can lock him in for a wildcard if he proves his fitness. He has produced tennis in Melbourne over his career worthy of a wildcard, and that is before you consider that awkward retirement video from January.

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Sitting just outside the main draw currently is James Duckworth, who is waiting for a couple of withdrawals before his spot in January is locked in. With the withdrawal of Dolgopolov today, he edged closer.

You couldn’t possibly overlook the 2019 season of Christopher O’Connell, given he won more matches on tour than any other male for the calendar year. If O’Connell doesn’t receive a wildcard, there may be a riot.

In the past three years, there have been 29 wildcards into the qualifying or main draw of ATP Brisbane and Sydney. Of those 29, none have been given to Marc Polmans. The young Australian did earn a wildcard for the main draw in Melbourne last year, and there is nothing to suggest he hasn’t earned one this year. A terrific year and a strong start in 2020 would springboard him towards the top 100.

Assuming Duckworth doesn’t require a wildcard, one spot remains. We can rule out Bernard Tomic, who was nowhere to be seen this week and is likely counting his money somewhere. His best will have him in the Top-100 again, however it will not come with the assistance of a wildcard.

I cannot see any other international players on the alternates list that are worthy of a wildcard for any reason. Hyeon Chung is sitting there in the qualifying draw, however I would be shocked if he was given special treatment and could have played in the Asia-Pacific wildcard playoff.

The final spot appears to be a race in three, with Andrew Harris, Thanasi Kokkinakis and Alex Bolt the next in line from a rankings standpoint. Harris has put together a career-best year, however, hasn’t been able to take a top-100 scalp. Bolt has a third-round appearance in 2019 to defend, and we saw against Gilles Simon that he can draw a big crowd. Bolt has struggled physically in the latter part of 2019, and on recent form it is hard to justify.

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Has the relationship between Tennis Australian and Kokkinakis improved in the last 12 months? On their best form and ability to draw a crowd, this wildcard undoubtedly goes to Kokkinakis. The US Open wildcard decision suggests things are in a good place, however with a retirement in Australia vs Taro Daniel and a walkover loss at Flushing Meadows to Rafael Nadal, there are question marks in the best-of-5 set format.

We haven’t seen Kokkinakis since the final in Tiburon (aka “Toilet-gate”), which means he will have had 4 months between tournaments to prepare. Having seen him watching and supporting the Wildcard Playoff participants, I’d be inclined to take the risk and give Kokkinakis the chance to start his 2020 season strongly.