rising star

AUSSIE OPEN WOMEN’S QUALIFYING 2010

The women’s qualifying draw packs more heat than on the men’s side for one main reason: Yanina Wickmayer. Despite being ranked 16th in the world, the Belgian is being forced to grind it out through three qualifying matches in order to secure a spot in the main draw.

Wickmayer was suspended by the Flemish Anti-Doping Tribunal in her home country in early November for apparently failing to report her whereabouts at certain times during the season.

The twenty year old rising star appealed the decision and had it overturned by a civil court in Belgium. Unfortunately for Wickmayer the new ruling came after the December 7th cut-off date for entries into the Australian Open.

That left Wickmayer with the option of applying for a wild-card from the tournament, but when it was not extended, it left her with no other option but going through the qualifying draw.

It’s disappointing that such a talented player is being forced to jump through hoops in order to qualify for the main draw. While I certainly feel that Wickmayer will make it through the qualies, it will place a greater physical strain on her body ahead of an already grueling Grand Slam schedule. Hopefully it will instead serve as a motivator for her and help her gain some momentum for a memorable tournament. She is obviously seeded number one in the qualifying draw and won a tough opening match on Thursday by a score of 4-6, 6-0, 7-5.

Aside from Wickmayer, the qualifying draw has a few other players worth following.

Alexandra Stevenson will best be remembered for her surprising run to the semi-finals at Wimbledon as a qualifier in 1999. That was a long time ago and Stevenson never built upon that success. Several injuries would creep up in 2002 and slow her progress and then a right-shoulder injury would derail her career at the end of 2004 and cause her ranking to plummet. Stevenson has been back to playing a full schedule for a couple of years now, but has not been able to regularly make it past qualifying draws and challenger-level tournaments.

Fifteen year old Laura Robson teamed up with Andy Murray at the Hopman Cup earlier this month and acquitted herself quite well. Born in Australia (Melbourne in fact) but playing for Great Britain, Robson lost to Daniela Hantuchova in three sets in the first round of Wimbledon last year, her first appearance at a Grand Slam. The youngster will turn sixteen during the Aussie Open and represents the future of female tennis in the U.K.

Canadians: I have to give a shout-out to the numerous Canadian women who are represented in the qualifying draw in Melbourne this year including, Valerie Tetreault, Heidi El Tabakh, Rebecca Marino and Sharon Fichman. Our country does not have much representation in the upper rankings of the tennis world, but these ladies are showing that Tennis Canada does have some talent in the mix just below the surface.

AUSSIE MOVINGS AND SHAKINGS: TENNIS IN THE COMMONWEALTH

Tennis fans of Queensland, Australia, were celebrating after three of their big name stars received wild cards this week for the 2010 Australian Open.

Davis Cup star Carsten Ball, two-time junior Grand Slam winner Bernard Tomic and national under 18 champion Jason Kubler were all handed passes to the event.

Ball missed the recent wild card playoff tournament with a back injury but has performed exceptionally well in 2009 and came close to making the main draw cut off point so the organisers made the decision to hand him a wildcard.

Tomic won this year’s US Open boy’s title to add to the 2008 Aussie boy’s title he’d already picked up. The Australians view Tomic as a huge prospect for the future and he has already shown promise by reaching the second round of the 2009 tournament.

Sixteen-year-old Kubler went on a 30-match winning streak this year which included victory at the prestigious Osaka Junior Open as well as leading Australia to Junior Davis Cup victory.

Former World No. 8 Alicia Molik and rising star Olivia Rogowska received wild cards in the women’s draw, Rogowska being the losing finalist in the recent wildcard playoffs.

The decision on the final wildcards to be handed out to the men’s and women’s draws will be made soon.

*Women’s doubles pairs were left feeling nervous as one of the most successful pairings of all time, America’s Lisa Raymond and Australia’s Rennae Stubbs, announced that they will once more compete together in 2010. Between 1996 and 2005 they won 32 titles together including three Grand Slams – Australia (2000), Wimbledon and the US Open (both 2001). They also won the 2001 Sony Ericsson Championships and both held the No. 1 ranking slot. Raymond has won a further two majors with another Aussie, Samantha Stosur, but the pair were always the most successful together. Raymond commented: “It’s funny how things come full circle.”

*Australian World No. 77 Peter Luczak has signed up to play in the 2010 Movistar Open, an ATP World Tour 250 tournament beginning January 31st in Santiago, Chile. The tournament takes place during the 200th anniversary of Chilean independence and vast celebrations are set to mark the event.

*Spanish clay court coach Felix Mantilla has been added to the Australian Davis Cup coaching team and captain John Fitzgerald was full of praise for the move, describing it as one of the most significant moves in decades. “Having Felix Mantilla now is a great asset to us,” he said. “I reckon it’s a very, very important appointment.”

*British tennis has awarded its December AEGON Awards with Naomi Broady picking up player of the month, Luke Bambridge (Junior Player) and Neil Frankel (coach) being the other benefactors.

*The Australian Open Changing Ends Film Festival has extended its entry deadline until January 18th. By submitting a film of no longer than 30 seconds you could win the top prize of $5,000 and have your film shown during end changes at the 2010 Open. Films must have a tennis theme. For more information visit www.changingends.com.au.