IIn the dark confines of an indoor arena at the Open 13 ATP tournament in Marseille last month, the name Tsitsipas was stamped on the scoreboard during a first-round match. But instead of the Greek world number 5, Stefanos instead denoted his younger brother, ranked number 970, who normally spends his days competing at the lowest level of the ITF World Tennis Tour.
Petros Tsitsipas, 20, entered the Marseille draw after receiving a wild card. It took 45 minutes and 36 seconds to be dismantled 6-0, 6-2 by world number 52, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. A measure of the 918 places in the ranking among them: Davidovich Fokina is one of the worst servers on the tour, ranked 102 out of 103 in service games won over the past year; Tsitsipas earned just three return points in the entire match.
The sight of the young Tsitsipas ushered in the pinnacle of the sport with little indication that his ability warranted it generated so much criticism that his protective brother described the discussions as “unfair.” Tournament director Jean-François Caujolle later explained that he had offered the spot in his box as a “thank you” to the Tsitsipas family for their support of the tournament: “You should know that Stefanos’ guarantee is half of what it could be. have claimed. elsewhere, ”he said.
Far beyond a specific problem from Tsitsipas himself, the episode was an example of the absurdity of the wild card system in tennis, in which places in some of the major professional sporting events in the world are used as tools of negotiation, to win. favors and also accumulated by the great ones. countries at the expense of promising players from lesser tennis countries.
Nepotism is embedded in the fabric of professional tennis. Marko Djokovic, Novak Djokovic’s 29-year-old brother who reached a career-high 571, received wild cards in eight ATP events, compiling a 0-8 record. Elke Clijsters, sister of former number one Kim and current contestant on The Bachelorette in Belgium, peaked at 389th and received seven wild cards in the main draw, losing all seven.
Jaslyn Hewitt, Lleyton Hewitt’s sister, received four wild cards outside Australia and a dozen at home. In 2019, Mari Osaka, the recently retired sister of world No. 2 Naomi, was awarded a wild card at the Miami Open through IMG, the tournament owner and Osaka management company.
Some of those wild cards worked in a context similar to Tsitsipas: profitable ways to woo the stars, supplementing the appearance fees they receive at ATP 250 and 500 events. Other players have essentially received a wild card from their own family: the The Djokovic family ran the Serbian Open in Belgrade, where Marko received numerous wild cards, while this month Emma Navarro, who is ranked 492, received a wild card in consecutive Charleston tournaments. by his billionaire father, Ben Navarro.
Historically, at the lower echelons of professional tennis there have been rumors about buying wild cards, or getting undeserved connections and favors. Discussion at tourist events also frequently focuses on bans. In February this year, an ATP 250 event in Córdoba, Argentina awarded two of its three wild cards to Nicolás Kicker of Argentina and Nicolás Jarry of Chile. Kicker was coming back from a match-fixing ban, Jarry from a doping ban.
The most common problem with wild cards is that they are the exclusive property of the major tennis nations, yet another way to share wealth. Nations with more tournaments offer their players more opportunities. The French, Australian and US Open also reciprocate with each other at their Grand Slam tournaments, leaving everyone else out.
Wild cards are not synonymous with success, as underlined by the state of tennis in Britain and the 71 senior wild cards awarded to former American prodigy Ryan Harrison, and can produce a culture of rights. But those who do not come from prominent tennis nations must make peace with their few opportunities and use them as a motivating force in their careers.
Clara Tauson, at 18, one of the brightest young stars and the only Danish in the WTA top 800, says: “You see every week some of the younger players get wild cards and you think: ‘Why not do I get those kinds of wildcards? ? ‘But I think it benefits me. At the end of the day, I’ve had to work for everything I have… And maybe it’s better this way. I know that everything I’ve done is my fault. “
Denmark is unlikely to have produced two future young talents, but while Tauson has had to make the top 100, Holger Rune, 17 and ranked 323, has had the red carpet ready for him. Since March, he has received a wild card in seven of the eight events he has played, including a wild card in the main draw at the Monte Carlo Masters. For Rune, those opportunities come from the influence of his sponsors, the agency, and the prominent French academy where he trains.
In an individual sport such as tennis, where the difference in earnings between the highest and lowest ranked players in a given tournament is extreme, each place in the draw counts as the lowest ranked players fight for their place in higher ranked tournaments. For tennis to truly function professionally, all important decisions must be held to higher standards.
In the same way that players must provide a medical reason each time they withdraw from an event, wild cards should be subject to further regulation with tournaments required to explain their reasons for offering each spot. There should also be a greater effort to ensure that talented players without connections have the opportunity to gain experience at the highest level, ensuring that tennis is a fairer sport for all.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism