360° Coverage : Wild Cards: Tennis' Free Lunch May Cause Indigestion

10 Updates

Wild Cards: Tennis' Free Lunch May Cause Indigestion

Apr 17 2014, 10:53am CDT | by

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, but tennis has something close to it: wild cards. A wild card grants entry into a tournament’s main draw or qualifying rounds for a pro who doesn’t make the...

Filed under: news

 
 
 

15 weeks ago

Wild Cards: Tennis' Free Lunch May Cause Indigestion

Apr 17 2014, 10:53am CDT | by

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, but tennis has something close to it: wild cards.

A wild card grants entry into a tournament’s main draw or qualifying rounds for a pro who doesn’t make the ranking cutoff for a tournament. Tournament directors disburse them to reward up and comers, give a hand to players on the comeback trail and put butts in stadium seats.

Giving out wild cards, “really isn’t a hard process,” said Delray Beach’s tournament director, Mark Baron. “Hold it to the last minute for a marquee player. Then give it to an American. Then look for promising international players. Then after that maybe give it to the last guy who didn’t make the draw.”

Baron prioritizes wild cards for top stars because one year “we gave [all our wild cards] out and Andy Roddick wanted one a week before. We didn’t have any.” Losing Roddick because of tournament logistics was a huge blow; the tournament has only hosted three top 10 players since 2000.

Baron directs one of America’s longest-running tournaments when stateside tilts like Memphis are shuttering as the sport chases growth markets in South America and Asia, and America struggles to produce the next Pete Sampras and Serena Williams. Delray Beach doesn’t have the war chest that Larry Ellison’s Indian Wells has, nor does it attract the same attention and foot traffic. Wild cards could provide another way for a small tournament to gain more traction with fans and the marketplace, if a tournament were willing to experiment with them.

Generally, tournament directors approach wild cards the same way Baron does, doling out cards to home-grown talent if no big names suddenly want in after the entry deadline. Challenger and juniors tennis bettor Sportdw published a report a couple weeks ago that showed the top beneficiaries of wild cards hail from countries that host the most ATP tournaments.

On the surface, awarding wild cards to precocious compatriots makes a lot of sense. Fans root for another hometown player, the patriotic angle may lure more people and the crowd loves an underdog (unless your favorite is losing to one).

But people don’t cheer for chalk, because that’s what sport and life usually give us. And chalk means the young or low-ranked wild card loses the majority of the time, which could hurt the young guns’ development and ultimately the tournaments over the long run. The players are the draw after all.

Famed tennis coach Robert Lansdorp sees another danger. “null You can give a person a wild card and give them a chance in a tournament, and they suck up a storm! They do terrible. If they do lose, then make them play qualies in the next tournament.”

Lansdorp knows a thing or two about grooming young players to break through on the big stage. He honed Maria Sharapova’s world-class groundstrokes when she was 11 and shaped the games that made Sampras and Davenport Slam champions multiple times over. No woman since Sharapova has won a Slam in her teens. Improved athleticism, racquet tech and slowed court speeds have aged both tours considerably. It’s odd that this graying hasn’t greatly impacted the decision-making taking place inside the sport, including how most people think about wild cards.

Jose Higueras, the USTA’s Director of Coaching, isn’t most people. In July, he told Sports on Earth that “if it was up to me, there would be no wild cards.” That’s pretty surprising coming from an employee at an organization that gives out 16 wild cards to men and women every US Open, and that’s just for men’s and women’s singles. All 16 main draw wild cards have gone to players from Slam-hosting nations each of the last four years. (The Slam nations have agreements in place where they swap wild cards, so a Frenchwoman can play Wimbledon, for example. It’s good to be the four kings.)

Higueras doesn’t pick the wild cards himself. David Brewer, the US Open tournament director, works with a team of USTA officials to accomplish that. “I know that Patrick McEnroe and Jose Higueras have really moved to the idea that players have to earn their wild cards. They’ve instituted a race for a [US Open] wild card,” Brewer says. This race, along with the Har-Tru USTA Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenge (HTUSTAPCWCC for not-so-short) that awards the winner a spot at the French, is proof positive that wild cards can reward performance and not popularity and patronage.

These playoffs are not as well-known as the weekly tournaments that comprise both tours’ schedules, which is a shame because they are a great showcase for hungry upstarts and veteran journeymen vying for a shot at the Slams, to say nothing of the potential prize money at stake. Winning a match at this year’s Australian Open netted players $43,389. $26,033 awaited the first-round losers.

Lansdorp also thinks tennis insiders have too much sway when it comes to the wild card process. “Agents say you sign with me and you get a wild card. People are dumb enough to think, my kid gets a wild card, he’s going to make it. It’s not going to create a champion. Look what [Ryan] Harrison is doing. He’s not doing anything. [Jack] Sock looks like a good player but wild cards are not going to help him.” Sam Duvall, a Lagardere tennis agent who reps Eugienie Bouchard and John Isner, said, “null They can be a great opportunity for players who have earned them. They can be used as a crutch for some.”

That’s the common criticism leveled at Jack Sock. But before you judge him, put yourself in Sock’s shoes for a minute. You’re the 88th best tennis player in the world. Only 87 people are better at what you do, out of 7.16 billion people. You’re improving, and you’re just 21. But so many people have already written you off, have sized up your game, your gait, your weight, everything about you, particularly your flaws, and have concluded that the sport has already passed you by.

Sock could be a great player. He could fizzle. There’s so much time for Sock. There’s enough time for him to play 50 more Slams. But people are paying more attention to the 19 wild cards he’s received over his career. He’s gone 13-19 in those tournaments.

Sock is just the recipient here, and it’s probably impossible to quantify how many wild cards are too many. The opportunity to play top competition and make a good chunk of change in a pricey sport is too good for him to pass up. “It’s not a knock on Jack,” Sam Duvall said. “He’s super talented. But this [wild card disparity] is a challenge that I have. Partly because I represent [Denis] Kudla.”/>/>

Kudla and Sock are both 21 and Kudla trails Sock just 20 places in the rankings, but Sock has received twice as many wild cards over their short careers. Another young American, Tennys Sandgren, has never received a main draw wild card in his career.

The deck is likewise stacked against players from less moneyed countries, particularly nations that don’t host the four Slams. Peanuts to the kid without a star agent or outsized talent who hails from a country with no tour-level tournaments at all. Czech lefty Jiri Vesely, who took Andy Murray to three sets a month ago, falls in this category. His strokes and serve are good but not great, and that may be the problem for him as far as attention goes. Without Milos Raonic’s serve, Grigor Dimitrov’s shotmaking and Kei Nishikori’s marketing potential, Vesely fails to turn sponsors’, agents’ and tournament directors’ heads.

I asked David Brewer if the wild card selection process hurts players from smaller markets like the Czech Republic. “It doesn’t seem to have hurt them too much.” That may be true for Jiri Vesely, who’s now ranked comfortably in the top 100, but for every success story there are scores of untold, failed attempts to make it on tour. Nearly a third of Sock’s career earnings have come from tournaments he received wild cards for. That goes a long way to covering the astronomical costs of playing tennis.

For promising interntional pros, for any player really, it helps to have the world’s biggest agencies in their corner. IMG Managing Director of Tennis Fernando Soler told FORBES, “We manage [British 19-year-old] Kyle Edmund. We thought he was ready to take a wild card into Chennai. Lost first round to Vasek Pospisil. We got him another one in Miami. The kid almost beats [Julien] Benneteau. In three months the kind of experience this kid has is unbelievable. Without wild cards, it could take him 18 months. Even though he lost, which isn’t the important thing, he feels he can play with these guys.”

Miami is one of the biggest non-Slam tournaments of the year. By virtue of his first-round loss, Edmund pocketed $9,165, more than four times the amount he took home from winning a Futures tournament a month earlier.

Miami is also owned by IMG. I asked Soler if he perceived a conflict of interest with IMG agents and IMG-repped players asking for wild cards from IMG-owned tournaments. “I think we have proven that we can deal with ourselves very nicely. We always have agents pushing for wild cards in our events. And we have tournament managers who want the best players for their tournaments. We’ve been doing it nicely for more than 50 years and so far no one has accused us of not doing the best for everybody.”

Duvall believes not being from IMG hurts his players’ chances of getting a wild card from tournaments the agency owns. “The party line is that they’re going to give it to their clients, and if they’re not, it’s going to someone who will be a really good story.” None of this is out of bounds, of course, and for Duvall, how IMG does business “makes total sense.”

IMG would be crazy not to leverage the assets and connections it’s accumulated. That’s why players continue to sign with the agency in droves. And many tennis insiders who spoke to FORBES about wild cards stressed that a player’s success on tour ultimately boils down to his or her skill and drive. If that’s the case then, tournaments should be more willing to take chances with how they use wild cards. Disburse wild cards for the qualifying rounds alone, making that lesser-known prelude to the tournament a better lead for the main course, and another way to publicize the tournament. If that’s too outré, make players earn wild cards through playoffs or give them to players on a recent tear, or players who have been out with some kind of tear, strain or illness. Expand the races for wild cards the Slams offer by giving cards to the top two or three performers in the series. Open up the wild card playoffs the Slams offer by having regional tourneys, where players from South America or Asia have a chance to get that Grand Slam cash. You could even reward lower-rung ITF event winners with a tour-level wild card, which would make up for the shoddy paycheck they’re sure to receive for winning at that level.

The home-grown wild card is the safe play, and wild cards are supposed to be anything but that. (Wild is in the name.) But to all the established interests in tennis, convincing them that alternatives even exist is a tough ask. “I’m sure if someone had a better way to give wild cards a lot of tournament directors would listen,” said Brewer.

Follow me on Twitter.

 
Update
10

7 weeks ago

RM47mil KWSG contributions still unclaimed

Jun 9 2014 7:54am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR: About RM47 million of contributions in the Teachers Provident Fund (KWSG) still remain unclaimed, the Dewan R ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
Update
9

7 weeks ago

Gold shop lost almost RM1mil

Jun 9 2014 3:50am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

KANGAR: A gold shop owner lost almost RM1 million after after the safe on in his shop was broken i ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
Update
8

7 weeks ago

Motion to debate MAS losses in Dewan Rakyat rejected

Jun 9 2014 3:39am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR: AN emergency motion to debate the losses incurred by Malaysia Airlines last year, amounting to RM1.2 billion was rejected by the Dewan Rakyat ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
Update
7

7 weeks ago

MH370 Tragedy: Hisham: RM27.6 mil spent on 1st phase of SAR

Jun 9 2014 2:11am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia spent some RM27.6 million in its first phase of the search operations for missing Malaysia Airline flight MH370, said Acting Transport Minister, Datuk Se ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
Update
6

7 weeks ago

9.1m litres of diesel seized in a month

Jun 8 2014 1:11am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

PUTRAJAYA: The Domestic Trade, Cooperatives, and Consumerism ministry has seized some 9.1 million litres of diesel and property worth RM58 million since mounting ‘Operasi Diesel Selatan’ in the ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
Update
5

7 weeks ago

Girl, 9, awarded RM2.78m compensation for medical negligence

Jun 6 2014 4:56am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR: A nine-year-old girl who suffered brain damage during her birth at a government hospital was awarded over RM2.78 million in compe ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
Update
4

8 weeks ago

Malaysia's total trade in April up 12pc

Jun 5 2014 11:52pm CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's total trade in April 2014 rose by 12 per cent from a year ago to RM123.86 billion due to growing trading activities, International Trade and Industry Minister Dat ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
Update
3

8 weeks ago

Works Ministry to spend RM20m for upgrading works at 50 accident black spots

Jun 4 2014 11:35pm CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

JOHOR BARU: The Works Ministry will implement upgrading works at 50 accident prone locations in the country that have been identified this year involving an al ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
Update
2

8 weeks ago

Najib launches loan scheme for Ramadan traders

Jun 4 2014 10:24pm CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

PUTRAJAYA: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak today launches RM45 million Ramadan Bazaa ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
Update
1

8 weeks ago

Residents bring up objection against Kidex to Suhakam

Jun 4 2014 4:49am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

PETALING JAYA: A group of 20 Petaling Jaya residents held a meeting with the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) over their objection against the proposed RM2.2 billion Kinrara Damansara Skyway (Kidex) tod ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 

Don't miss ...

 

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/30" rel="author">Forbes</a>
Forbes is among the most trusted resources for the world's business and investment leaders, providing them the uncompromising commentary, concise analysis, relevant tools and real-time reporting they need to succeed at work, profit from investing and have fun with the rewards of winning.

 

blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest stories

Samsung to launch two new smartphones
Seoul, Aug 1 (IANS) Samsung Electronics will launch two new high-end smartphones in next six months.
 
 
Galaxy that acts as cosmic magnifying glass discovered
Washington, Aug 1 (IANS) Using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have unexpectedly discovered the most distant galaxy that acts as a cosmic magnifying glass.
 
 
Watch your waistline for diabetes risk
London, Aug 1 (IANS) A British health report has warned that adults with a large waistline are five times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
 
 
Now SEPA to facilitate euro payments
Brussels, Aug 1 (IANS) The European Commission said Thursday that the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) would become fully operational in all euro zone countries from Aug 1, 2014 onwards.
 
 
 

Latest from the Network

Pujara, Kohli slip in ICC rankings for Test batsmen
Dubai, Aug 1 (IANS) South Africa's AB de Villiers continues to head the Reliance ICC Rankings for Test batsmen while compatriot Hashim Amla returned to the top three. Poor performances from India's Chetseshwar Pujara...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Two women injured in Pakistan acid attack
Islamabad, Aug 1 (IANS) A woman and her daughter were injured Friday in an acid attack in Pakistan's Punjab province. According to police sources, the two women, Momina and her daughter Amina, were inside their...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Family of six murdered in China
Beijing, Aug 1 (IANS) At least six members of a family were murdered Friday in China's Hunan province, a police official said. According to the official, Cheng and his family were killed in their home in Jiutang...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Seema, Krishna qualify for women's discus throw final
Glasgow, Aug 1 (IANS) Both Seema Punia and Krishna Poonia advanced to the women's discus throw final but while Seema's throw put her in second position, Krishna was placed a lowly 11th in the qualification round of the...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
James Bond script approved
'Bond 24's revamped script has been approved by movie bosses. Writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were rehired last month to ''rescue'' John Logan's original screenplay and insiders have now admitted they had a bigger...
Read more on Movie Balla
 
Samsung to launch two new smartphones
Seoul, Aug 1 (IANS) Samsung Electronics will launch two new high-end smartphones in next six months. Kim Hyun-joon, senior vice president at Samsung, told investors that one model will feature a large screen, while...
Read more on Business Balla
 
Weight issues - when Hollywood movies went wrong
Los Angeles, Aug 1 (IANS) Depictions of weight gain or loss we see in Hollywood movies are rarely true to life, and yet we believe them. Here's a list things movies get wrong when it comes to weight, reports...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Orlando Bloom vaulted sofa to reach Bieber
Orlando Bloom jumped over a sofa to punch Justin Bieber. The 'Lord of the Rings' actor was involved in an altercation with the 'Baby' hitmaker at upmarket Ibiza eatery Cipriani earlier this week, and an onlooker claims...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Amal Alamuddin celebrates bridal shower
Amal Alamuddin enjoyed a bridal shower on Tuesday (07.29.14). The British human rights lawyer celebrated her impending marriage to George Clooney with an ''intimate'' dinner hosted by Ellen Barkin at the actress' New...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Sindhu joins Thulasi, Kashyap, Srikanth in quarters (Roundup)
Glasgow, Aug 1 (IANS) Indian badminton players had a great day at the Commonwealth Games when Pusarla Venkata Sindhu joined Parupalli Kashyap, Kidambi Srikanth, Rajah Menuri Venkata Gurusaidatt and Puthenpurayil...
Read more on Sport Balla