Wildcard wonders: who gets the main-draw gifts?

Published by Matt Trollope

Quentin Halys received a wildcard into last year's Australian Open, one of six the Frenchman was awarded in 2016; Getty Images
Exactly which players receive the gift of a wildcard entry into events, and how often? We scanned last year’s ATP tournament draws to find out.

Looking at the ATP Montpellier main draw recently, a name stood out.

[WC] Quentin Halys.

Another wildcard for Halys? The Frenchman sure seemed to get a lot of them, and after some deeper digging it was confirmed – this was his eighth in the past 13 months.

But was it more than any other player? We delved into the tournament archives to find out, looking at every tour-level event in 2016 to find out who scored these prized main draw entries.

According to The 2016 ATP Official Rulebook, “wildcards are players included in the main draw at the sole discretion of the tournament.”

Tournaments choose to award wildcards to players based on many factors. They often hand them to local players, promising young talents, stars whose rankings have fallen, players whose popularity transcends ranking, big names on the comeback trail or players through reciprocal deals with other tennis federations.

Often, highly-ranked players decide at the last minute to play a tournament despite missing the entry deadline, taking their place in the draw as a seeded wildcard. We didn’t include these players in our analysis – had they decided to play earlier, they would have been directly accepted into the draw based on their ranking.

We wanted to find out which players – whose rankings didn’t make the main draw cut – were nonetheless invited to play.

In the table below, we feature only players who received multiple wildcards in 2016.

wildcard-table-2

Halys went close to being the most wildcard-awarded player in the game last year.

With six, he trailed only Juan Martin del Potro, a former top-five star and major champion who in 2016 made his way back onto the tour following a length battle with wrist injuries.

More interesting was looking at how a player performed when they were awarded a wildcard.

In the eight tournaments del Potro contested with “WC” next to his name, he went an impressive 20-7, managing to go all the way to the title in Stockholm.

At the other end of the spectrum, Turkey’s Marsel Ilhan received four main-draw wildcards – and lost in the first round at all four of those tournaments. American Frances Tiafoe went a similarly-forgettable 1-6.

Players hailing from Grand Slam nations and countries with multiple ATP events fared best in the wildcard stakes.

In the case of Halys, five of his six wildcards came at events staged on French soil. The other came at the Australian Open, where each year one player from France is awarded entry through a reciprocal wildcard arrangement between Tennis Australia and the French Tennis Federation.

All six of Tiafoe’s wildcards were handed out at American events.

Yet players like Karen Khachanov, Alexander Zverev and Elias Ymer scored the bulk of their wildcards at tournaments staged outside their home country, indicating different factors were at play in the selection process.

The common thread? Khachanov, Zverev and Ymer in 2016 were all ATP #NextGen players.

Just who receives the lion’s share of wildcards in 2017 remains to be seen.

Yet as this week’s Marseille draw was unveiled, Halys was not one of the recipients.

Perhaps, considering his lukewarm 3-6 record at his wildcard-entry events last year and a ranking that barely budged from the mid 100s in the past 12 months, the Frenchman’s luck has run out.

 

Next we’ll look at which WTA players received the most wildcards in 2016 – and whether or not they made the most of them.

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