Wang, Kwon earn Australian Open wild cards

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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
Kwon was impressive in earning the Asia-Pacific Australian Open wild card in Zhuhai, China.

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.

Wang

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: [2] Jiang Xinyu / Tang Qianhui (CHN)

Boys’ singles: [6] Xiao Linang (CHN)

Girls’ singles: Tang Qianhui (CHN)

(Screenshots from the Aus Open’s Asia-Pacific wild-card livestream)

Date draws tough foe in comeback (updated)

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(Click here for an update on this comeback story).

After 15 months away, Kimiko Date is making another comeback this week at a $80,000 ITF tournament in Gifu, Japan.

Compared to her 12-year hiatus earlier in her career, that’s a mere blip in time.

The 46-year-old didn’t get much draw luck for her first match back, which should be scheduled for Wednesday.

Date drew No. 3 seed Zhu Lin, a 23-year-old from China currently ranked No. 136 who was a semifinalist in Gifu a year ago.

           Zhu Lin

Zhu has some quality wins on her resumé. She defeated reigning Indian Wells champion Elena Vesnina in the first round of qualifying at the Australian Open a year ago. In 2015, she upset Italian veteran Francesca Schiavone twice in a row, at Indian Wells and Miami.

She qualified at the Australian Open this year, losing in the first round to Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia. But Zhu is thoroughly unknown outside of Asia. In fact, the last time the 23-year-old even played a tournament that wasn’t in Asia was last year’s US Open qualifying.

Kimiko
Could we see Date at Wimbledon this summer? Her comeback effort in Japan may tell us more this week. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

A 12-year hiatus

Date reached as high as No. 4 in the world back in the Steffi Graf-Monica Seles era. But by age 26, she wearied of the grind. Her limited English just added to her loneliness, so she packed her bags and quit the Tour cold in 1996.

With the exception of one doubles appearance in Tokyo in 2002, Date disappeared … until she resurfaced at this same Gifu event in 2008. She reached the singles final and won the doubles title with countrywoman Kurumi Nara.

By early 2009, she was back in the majors at the Australian Open. By September of that year, she defeated Daniela Hantuchova and Maria Kirilenko among others to win the WTA Tour event in Seoul, Korea.

When she teamed up with Yayuk Basuki of Indonesia for doubles at the 2010 Australian Open, both were 39. Their combined age of 78 had to be some kind of record.

 

Date was competitive against a lot of the best players on Tour with her unorthodox, clever game. She upset Maria Sharapova in the first round of the Tokyo tournament in 2010. Her second-round match against Venus Williams on famed centre court at Wimbledon in 2011 stands out to this day as one of the highest-quality women’s matches there – ever.  

Williams prevailed 6-7 (6), 6-3, 8-6.

In 2013, she became the oldest woman in the Open era (at 42) to reach the third round at Wimbledon, where she lost to Serena Williams.

Birth certificates don’t lie

Despite being in volcanic physical shape – she put players half her age to shame – Date couldn’t deny her birth date. She would go through periods where her quads and knee wouldn’t cooperate. At times, she had trouble going back-to-back days; she might post a tough three-set win one day, but be unable to answer the bell for the next round.

After losing in the first round of qualifying to Amandine Hesse of France at the 2016 Australian Open (see photo gallery above), a match that went to 6-4 in the third set despite Date’s obvious physical issues, she underwent two knee surgeries. But she never thought of quitting.

Kimiko
That there is no quit in Kimiko Date is an understatement. She has worked for 14 months to return to the court. (Photo: Kimiko Date blog)

She returns with a protected ranking at No. 193, which means she could have entered the qualifying at the French Open or Wimbledon if she chose to. So far, she has not. No doubt she wants to save those options for a few months down the road when, knee permitting, she will be more competitive. But she still has time to consider Wimbledon, and definitely think about the US Open this summer and the Australian Open next January.

Date returns with the hyphenated “-Krumm” gone from her last name. She and German race-car driver Michael Krumm divorced during her time away.