A 16-year-old, Wang Xinyu of China, has won the Australian Open’s Asia-Pacific wild-card playoff.
Wang, currently at a career-high No. 6 in the ITF junior rankings, defeated wild card Abigail Tere-Apisah of Papua, New Guinea 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 in a dramatic women’s final Sunday.
There’s a small cheque involved. But the biggest prize is a wild card straight into the singles main draw at next month’s Australian Open.
Part of the trophy ceremony is the bestowing of a player’s accreditation for the Australian Open, which is a really nice touch.
On the men’s side, No. 1 seed Kwon Soon Woo of South Korea rolled over No. 4 seed Li Zhe 6-1, 6-1 to earn his own wild card into the men’s singles draw.
(Yes, that’s former top-20 player Zheng Jie, a former Australian Open doubles champion, in the photo with Wang).
Wang’s high junior ranking might be a little misleading, given she has piled up ranking points at smaller tournaments in Asia.
She reached the second round at the Australian and US Opens and the third round at the French Open and Wimbledon this year.
But she clearly has potential – a tall, hard hitter who can rip groundstroke winners from anywhere, although with a wildly inconsistent serve.
And it’s an impressive result after a difficult fall in which Wang either retired or handed her opponent a walkover in three matches in the pros. She also went 1-4 in her singles matches at the ITF Junior Masters in late October. There may well have been an injury; she had her right knee taped during the final.
Wang currently is No. 763 in the WTA Tour rankings. Little doubt she’ll be the lowest-ranked player in the women’s singles draw.
As for Kwon, who is 20, the victory means he can skip the regular qualifying at the Australian Open. Ranked a career-best No. 168, he would easily have made the cut there.
Kwon played the Asian Challenger circuit all of 2017 with a couple of exceptions: the qualifying at Wimbledon and at the US Open, where he lost in the first round.
Rare player from New Guinea
Wang’s opponent, Tere-Apisah, has a great story.
The 25-year-old, whose career-high junior ranking of No. 124 came back in 2009, is at career highs in the WTA Tour rankings nearly nine years later. Unlike her opponent, she wasn’t decked out in the latest Nike. She wore a Wilson dress from several years ago, Nike shoes from the summer of 2016.
Tere-Apisah is the only female player in the history of New Guinea to even have a WTA Tour ranking; another player, Nicole Angat (now retired) played Fed Cup and juniors, but never in the pros.
She’s at No. 334 in singles, No. 242 in doubles after spending the first and last parts of the year playing ITF events in Australia, and the middle of the year in the U.S. She received a grant from the ITF’s Grand Slam Development Fund this year.
Wild cards galore
The singles wild cards weren’t the only ones at stake in Zhuhai.
The juniors earned wild cards as well. The criteria was an ITF junior ranking higher than 100 (with the expected cutoffs for the junior event at the Australian Open being 100) and at least one WTA/ATP ranking point in singles or doubles on their resumés.
The juniors also could enter the women’s doubles event, if they were eligible. Tang Qianhui, 17, currently ranked No. 154 on the WTA Tour in doubles and Jiang Xinyu, 18 and ranked a career-high No. 90, won the doubles wild card.
The pair defeated Alicja Rosolska and Anna Smith at the Zhuhai Elite Trophy event last month. They also defeated the British team of Katy Dunne and Laura Robson at a $100,000 ITF tournament in Shenzhen a couple of weeks ago.
So they weren’t exactly long shots.
Here’s a list of the other wild-card winners.
Men’s doubles: Sonchat and Sanchai Ratiwatana (THA)
Women’s doubles:  Jiang Xinyu / Tang Qianhui (CHN)
Boys’ singles:  Xiao Linang (CHN)
Girls’ singles: Tang Qianhui (CHN)
(Screenshots from the Aus Open’s Asia-Pacific wild-card livestream)