USTA Oz Open wild-card challenge starts Oct. 21

For the sixth year, the USTA will hold a wild card challenge to determine the two players who will earn its reciprocal wild cards into the 2020 Australian Open.

As with the wild cards for the French Open and the US Open, a series of tournaments over several weeks will count towards the point tally, with the highest point-earner on both the men’s and women’s sides getting the free pass into Melbourne.

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That, of course, also comes with the perk of a large guaranteed prize-money check, even if they lose in the first round.

As a recent example, Kristie Ahn took the wild card she earned into the US Open last summer all the way to the fourth round.

Ahn currently sits at a career-high No. 87 in singles. And she should be in fine shape to enter the 2020 Australian Open main draw on her own ranking.

The series of tournaments begins Oct. 21 for the women and lasts four weeks. For the men, it begins Oct. 28 and lasts three weeks.

For the women, the best three results will count. The men will count their best two results – and can include the Paris Masters in two weeks, if they can get in.

Players who otherwise would get straight in the Australian Open, and players ranked in the top 50 at the start of the series, aren’t eligible. 

Women’s Events

  • Week of October 21: USTA Pro Circuit / ITF World Tennis Tour W80s: Macon, Ga.; Poitiers, France; ITF World Tennis Tour W60s: Saguenay, Canada.
  • Week of October 28: USTA Pro Circuit W80: Tyler, Texas; ITF World Tennis Tour W60s: Toronto, Canada; Liuzhou, China; Nantes, France.
  • Week of November 4: USTA Pro Circuit W60 Event: Las Vegas; ITF World Tennis Tour W100: Shenzhen, China.
  • Week of November 11: WTA $125,000 Series Events: Houston, Texas; Taipei; ITF World Tennis Tour W100: Tokyo.

Men’s Events

  • Week of October 28: ATP Masters 1000 Paris; ATP Challenger 110: Shenzhen, China; USTA Pro Circuit / ATP Challenger 80s: Charlottesville, Va.; Playford, Australia.
  • Week of November 4: ATP Challenger 110: Bratislava, Slovakia; USTA Pro Circuit / ATP Challenger 80s: Knoxville, Tenn.; Kobe, Japan.
  • Week of November 11: ATP Challenger 125: Houston; USTA Pro Circuit / ATP Challenger 80s: Champaign, Ill.; Helsinki, Finland; Ortisei, Italy; Pune, India.

Wild-carders not historically successful

Americans
Bjorn Fratangelo will look at the USTA wild-card challenge to get straight into the main draw again in 2020. In January, he had to win three matches in qualifying in Melbourne. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Last year, Jack Sock and Whitney Osuigwe won the wild cards, with Sock having a big edge because of the 180 points he earned with his quarter-final effort at the Paris Masters 1000. He was close to making the main draw on his own, at No. 105.

It didn’t work out that well for either. Sock lost in four sets to Australian wild card Alex Bolt – and then was out until July after surgery on his right thumb.

Osuigwe drew Bianca Andreescu, and ended up losing a marathon first-round match. The Canadian was on a wave of momentum after her effort at the season-opening tournament in Auckland, and then three match wins in qualifying.

Generally, the wild cards (through the challenge, and prior to 2015 decided upon by the USTA), have not done that well. The vast majority have lost in the first round. The best effort was a young Madison Keys, who reached the third round back in 2013.

Sock will have to hit the WC challenge again

A year later, Sock’s ranking is down to No. 217. And it is set to tumble right off the charts when those Paris Masters points come off. All 225 points he has on his current resumé come from the Stockholm event a year ago this week (45) and Paris (180). They will be gone by early November.

With his current ranking, Sock can’t hit Europe and at least try to earn a big chunk of points. Even then, earning them is hardly a given, since he has yet to win a first-round match in seven tournaments since returning to the Tour.

The bad news Wednesday was that Sock, playing his first match at the Las Vegas Challenger, retired down 7-6 (7), 1-0 to Greek qualifier Michail Pervolarakis.

Sock had an MTO after the first set (Screenshot: Livestream.com)He had a set point during the set and another serving at 6-5 in the tiebreak, but lost it.

After being treated briefly for what appeared to be a lower back issue, Sock came out to play one game and one point, and retired.

Sock is entered in the Charlottesville and Knoxville Challengers, and may well enter Houston or Champaign the final week of the wild-card race (the deadline isn’t until Monday). He has nearly two weeks to recover.

The former top-10 player hasn’t needed to use the protected ranking he became eligible for after being out six months (which would clock in at around No. 122, the average of his rankings during the first three months of his injury absence).

Most often than not, Sock has received wild cards in the tournaments he has played since his return. But it appears he’ll have to use that protected ranking now, if he wants to resurrect his career.

Other contenders

Donald Young (who also lost in the second round in Vegas), J.J. Wolf (who turned pro this summer), Marcos Giron, Bjorn Fratangelo and Noah Rubin would be among the other contenders on the men’s side.

Denis Kudla, currently at No. 105 (just where Sock was a year ago), played the fall European indoor circuit last year and has 56 points points to defend.

At best, he will be borderline to get into Melbourne on his own. He has entered the U.S. Challengers.

On the women’s side, Osuigwe is ranked No. 114 and will try to go the wild-card route again. She would be a top contender along with Varvara Lepchenko, Usue Arconada, Ann Li, Caroline Dolehide and Shelby Rogers, whose “true” ranking is at No. 226 even if she has been using a protected ranking this season.

Rogers has already used the protected ranking for the allowed two Grand Slams.

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