Longshot Zhe Li earns Oz Open spot

He’s been at this for 15 years, and never has been ranked higher than No. 210 in the world.

But Zhe Li will take his talents to Melbourne next month.

The 32-year-old from China, seeded No. 3, pulled off an impressive comeback in the final of the Asia-Pacific Australian Open wild-card playoff.

He defeated Zhang Ze, his Davis Cup teammate and the No. 2 seed, 1-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4.

For that, Li earned a cheque for $2,500 (AUD).

More crucially, the title comes with a spot in the main draw at the Australian Open next month.

These are players who likely will never win a big tournament. So the hanging of the tournament credential around the winner’s neck is a pretty sweet touch that underscores the magnitude of the victory for the winner.

It’s no wonder Li was quite overcome with emotion.

This playoff is the easiest port of entry into a major. This event serves as great promotion for the Australian Open in its Asia-Pacific market, but the calibre is fairly pedestrian.

In his worse moments, Li had to think – especially after six failed attempts in the event – that this day would never come.

Drama at 3-4 in the 3rd

Li’s comeback after a 27-minute wipeout in the first set had been impressive. But in the eighth game of the third set, he was up against it as Zhang had three break points.

Convert one of them, and Zhang would have served for the wild card.

Zhang, a 28-year-old ranked No. 220 (who broke into the top 150 back in 2013) was grunting for dear life, but he wasn’t going after it. He was waiting for Li to miss.

Here’s what happened.

Li broke Zhang in the next game. And before he served for the match, the 32-year-old checked his crib notes.

Li

He took care of business without incident.

Grand Slam debut ahead

Li is currently ranked No. 255, which would have made it tight for him to even get into the Australian Open qualifying.

(His opponent, Zhang, should make it easily – so that’s at least a consolation prize).

In 2016, when his ranking was at its best, he did make the qualifying cut at three majors. Li lost to Edouard Roger-Vasselin in the first round of the Australian Open – after winning the first set 6-1.

At the French Open and Wimbledon, he defeated serviceable players in the first round and fell in the second.

And that’s the extent of his Grand Slam experience.

A career in Challengers

Li
Was he overjoyed? You bet.

On the ATP Tour, Li has never played an event outside China.

His only match win came in a third-set tiebreak against Teymuraz Gabashvili of Russia in the first round of qualifying in Shanghai in 2010. 

Overall, in qualifying/main draw appearances at the ATP Tour level in Shenzhen, Shanghai and Beijing (going back to 2007), Li has gone 1-15. He has received four main-draw wild cards into the Shanghai Masters. And while three of his opponents were current or former top-10 players, he never won a set.

This year, he was handed a gift: a first-round match against another Chinese wild card. But young Yibing Wu, ranked outside the top 400, defeated him in straight sets.

Li’s career earnings over 15 years hover around $450,000 (about $30,000 a season if you average it out). And yet, he has persevered.

This was the 35th tournament Li has played in 2018 – all of them in Asia and Australia but for a three-week Challenger tour of Canada in July. He has earned a total of $72.000.

Going into this week, he had played 1,225 matches in the pros – 70 per cent of them on the low-level Futures circuit.

You have to either be crazy or stubborn. Or both.

Li

Seventh time lucky

This was the seventh time the Asia-Pacific wild card was determined in a playoff. And Li had taken part all seven times.

He made the final – one match away from the pot of gold – on two previous occasions. Kwong Soon-Woo of Korea beat him last year; the same Zhang Ze defeated him in 2014. 

Li also lost to the eventual champion, earlier in the tournament, on two other occasions.

This was his time.

First-round prize money guaranteed

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The prize-money distribution for the 2019 Australian Open hasn’t been announced yet. But the increase over 2018 is 10 per cent. 

Add 10 per cent to what a first-round loser took home a year ago (and it may be more, if the tournament diverts more of that increase to the earlier rounds), and Li is guaranteed around $50,000 US.

That can be a game-changer, even at this stage of his career.

There isn’t a great history for the Asia-Pacific wild card in Melbourne. That’s not surprising; the rankings of the players indicate they should struggle against top-100 players, or even qualifiers.

But there was one success story. 

2016 wild-card champion Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan – who, as it happens, was born just two weeks before Li and turned pro the same year, had a great 2017 Australian Open.

Wild card to the round of 16

Istomin reached a career high in singles of No. 33 in 2012. But he was down in the rankings as low as No. 144 just two months before the playoff.

He got through to the fourth round in Melbourne. Istomin upset No. 2 seed Novak Djokovic in five sets in the second round. He followed that up with a five-set win over No. 30 seed Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain before falling to Grigor Dimitrov in four sets.

It was a major boost. Istomin rose to No. 80, and it enabled him to spend the entire 2017 season at the ATP Tour level.

One thing’s for sure. Li will be a story to watch and root for in January.

He was asked by a Tennis Australia correspondent who he’d love to face in his Grand Slam debut.

“I actually thought about it this morning. I hope it can be Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic,” he said.

Hopefully he’ll get his wish.

(Screen shots from Tennis Australia’s livestreaming of the Asia-Pacific playoff).

Sock sitting pretty in USTA wild-card race

If the American players toiling away on the U.S. Challenger circuit during this three-week period thought they were fighting for the Australian Open main draw wild card, they got a bit of a shock.

Because Jack Sock’s surprise run to the quarter finals at the points-rich Paris Masters last week put him in the catbird’s seat to get the USTA’s reciprocal free pass.

Unlike the women’s wild-card race, which is limited to events in the U.S. (last week was the second week of four), the men had far more latitude.

They could also earn their points at Challengers in Europe and Asia, as well as the one ATP event during the three-week eligibility period. And that one tournament happened to have been the final Masters 1000 event of the season.

The women can only earn points at one event per week. Even the Challengers close by in Canada didn’t count.

On another level, though, it does add some spice to have all of the players vying for the wild card playing in the same events.

Lepchenko, Osuigwe leads the women’s race

Varvara Lepchenko, 32 and Whitney Osuigwe – half that, at 16 – lead the women’s wild card standings after the first two weeks.

The best three results in the four tournaments are counted.

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This week’s ITF tournament in Las Vegas, Nevada also awards 115 points to the winner.

But the Houston WTA 125K during the final week of the race is more lucrative: 160 points to the champion, 95 to the finalist.

So it’s a long way from over.

180 points in one week for Sock

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The $75,000 Challengers in the U.S. award 80 points to the champion.

On the men’s side, the wild-card winner will be the one with the most points from his best two results over the three weeks.

And by reaching the quarters in Paris, Sock earned 180 ranking points in just one tournament.

Gven the U.S. Challengers offer just 80 points to the winner (125 at the final $150,000 Challenger in Houston), it will be an uphill battle for the rest.

Meanwhile, Tommy Paul stands in second place, with his 80 points won at the Charlottesville Challenger on Sunday.

Paul wins first Challenger title

Champaign choice means no Oz champagne

Sock could probably lay the whole thing to rest by playing next week. But he’ll be a little busy – in London, playing in the ATP Tour Finals doubles with Mike Bryan.

But to overtake Sock, Paul would have to win the Houston Challenger next week. The other option would be to fly all the way to Bangalore, India and compete at a similar Challenger over there.

Except, he can’t. So he’s out of luck.

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The $150,000 Challengers award 125 points to the champion.

In Houston, the two top-100 players entered (Hubert Hurkacz made it to Milan this week, and Brit Cameron Norrie) have pulled out.

So there are no top-100 players (barring wild cards). And the main draw cutoff currently sits outside the top 300.

Unfortunately for Paul, he is already entered and accepted into the main draw of another U.S. Challenger next week, in Champaign, Ill. That one offers a $75,000 purse. So even if he won it, he still couldn’t overtake Sock because 160 points wouldn’t be enough.

And by the rules, he’s not allowed to play anywhere else if he pulls out of the tournament.

The Champaign event is the incumbent. Houston is part of the new Oracle/Larry Ellison funded Challenger Series. Unfortunately, it was decided it would be played the same week as Champaign – which hurts both events. And despite double the prize money, it actually has a weaker field.

So, who else has a shot?

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Michael Mmoh, right on the Australian Open bubble at No. 103, has no shot at the USTA’s wild card because he opted for Champaign over Houston.

Here are the Americans, and where they’re entered the next two weeks.

Let’s note again that the same player would have to win this week and then next week in Houston to pass Sock and get the wild card. So even under optimal circumstances it’s a serious long shot.

But five of these eight, having entered Champaign, have zero shot.

(No Americans are entered in a tournament in Bangalore, India the same week as Houston and offering the same points).

Bjorn Fratangelo (Knoxville, Houston)
Tim Smyczek (Knoxville, Houston)
Mitchell Krueger (Knoxville, Houston)

Tommy Paul (Knoxville SE, Champaign)
Michael Mmoh (Knoxville, Champaign)  
Christopher Eubanks (Knoxville, Champaign)
Reilly Opelka (Knoxville, Champaign)
Christian Harrison (Knoxville, Champaign)

Mmoh on the bubble

For Mmoh, ranked two spots ahead of Sock at No. 103 in the rankings, it might be a tough one. He can’t win the wild card. And if a few players with protected rankings bump him down, he’ll be out of the main draw in Australia.

So when you look at it, given how long ago the players had to choose between Houston and the traditionall and popular tournament in Champaign, it’s a tough break.

Actually, it’s a little unfair; the Houston Challenger was only officially announced on Aug. 22. And there was every reason to assume the field would be much tougher than it turned out to be.

Wimbledon wild cards announced

And the Oscar goes to …

Just kidding.

After a meeting Monday, and no doubt much to and fro and tut-tutting and “Oh, I say”-ing and – in Dan Evans’ case – value judgments, the All England Club’s seeding committee handed down most of its wild-card decisions Wednesday morning.

And the bullet-point highlights are as follows.

*Evans is left out (at least so far)..

*Marcus Willis (the ghost of glorious Wimbledons past) is as well.

*So is 2014 finalist Genie Bouchard. And her former best friend Laura Robson, the 2008 junior champion, was even left out of the qualifying.

*There are more female than male singles prospects in the U.K.

*Lleyton Hewitt will never retire.

*And the AELTC recognized former doubles champions in pairing up Canadian Daniel Nestor and fellow lefty Jürgen Melzer of Austria for a doubles wild card.

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Willis had a nice run with Jay Clarke in the men’s doubles a year ago, and nearly gave it a go in the qualifying, but was shut out this time around. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Only three gentlemen’s singles WCs

Liam BROADY (GBR) (168)
Jay CLARKE (GBR) (223)
Alex DE MINAUR (AUS)
To be announced
To be announced
To be announced
To be announced
To be announced

De Minaur, the junior boys’ finalist in 2016 (he lost to Denis Shapovalov) is well deserving  under any circumstance. His current career-high ranking of No. 78 would have been more than enough to get him in, had they used this week’s numbers. And he just won one, and made the final of a second grass-court Challenger over the last few weeks.

Only one opening for the ladies

Katie BOULTER (GBR) (139)
Naomi BROADY (GBR) (129)
Harriet DART (GBR) (190)
Katy DUNNE (GBR) (222)
Ons JABEUR (TUN)
Katie SWAN (GBR) (206)
Gabriella TAYLOR (GBR) (182)
To be announced

Jabeur, from Tunisia, moved up 47 spots to No. 133 after winning the Manchester grass-court ITF last week without dropping a set.

Gentlemen abound in doubles

Luke BAMBRIDGE & Jonny O’MARA (GBR)
Alex BOLT & Lleyton HEWITT (AUS)
Liam BROADY & Scott CLAYTON (GBR)
Jay CLARKE & Cameron NORRIE (GBR)
Jurgen MELZER (AUT) & Daniel NESTOR (CAN)
Fredrik NIELSEN (DEN) & Joe SALISBURY (GBR)
To be announced
To be announced

Plenty of room in ladies’ doubles

Katie BOULTER & Katie SWAN (GBR)
Naomi BROADY (GBR) & Asia MUHAMMAD (USA)
Harriet DART & Katy DUNNE (GBR)
To be announced
To be announced
To be announced
To be announced

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Bouchard and Lisicki teamed up for doubles a year ago, but their current rankings won’t allow that in 2018. The two former finalists will both play the singles qualifying. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Two spots left in the qualies

Alejandro DAVIDOVICH FOKINA (ESP)
Jack DRAPER (GBR)
George LOFFHAGEN (GBR)
Anton MATUSEVICH (GBR)
Aidan MCHUGH (GBR)
Alexander WARD (GBR)
James WARD (GBR)
Wild card play-off place
Wild card play-off place

Davidovich Fokina is last year’s junior boys’ champion, currently ranked No. 346. Notable is that last year, the Canadian Shapovalov received a main-draw wild card, not one for qualifying. A year young then than Davidovich Fokina is now, he already was ranked inside the top 200.

The playoffs for the wild-card spots begin Thursday at Aorangi Park, adjacent to the main club. And you would expect Evans, who lost a tough one, 7-5 in the third set, to Adrian Mannarino late Tuesday at Queen’s Club after receiving a wild card there, to take it on.

He served for the match against Mannarino before going down. How ironic would it have been if Evans had not been able to make the pre-qualifying because of a deep run at … Queen’s Club.

Evans served a year’s suspension after testing positive for cocaine which, while a really, really dumb thing to do is the opposite of a performance-enhancing drug. And he’s been playing very good tennis. But he’s in the dog house.

Unknowns in the ladies qualies

Holly FISCHER (GBR)
Francesca JONES (GBR)
Claire LIU (USA)
Maia LUMSDEN (GBR)
Emma RADUCANU (GBR)
To be announced
Wild card play-off place
Wild card play-off place

Liu is last year’s junior girls’ singles champion, 

Who’s left out?

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Laura Robson was just 14 when she won the junior girls’ title a decade ago. Her career has not panned out the way most hoped, and wrist issues have hampered her along the way. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Some had thought that the Canadian Bouchard, who will have to play the qualifying at a second straight Grand Slam, might benefit from the free pass on a legacy basis.

There was a case to be made for 2013 finalist Sabine Lisicki as well. She was the runner-up in 2013 to Marion Bartoli, a semifinalist in 2011 and a quarterfinalist on three other occasions.

Lisicki, currently at No. 159, missed the Australian Open and hasn’t played at all since Miami, after shoulder and knee injuries last year. She was practicing in Stuttgart during the men’s grass-court event, but didn’t enter any tournaments this week to prepare for next week’s qualifying (for which she is entered).

As for Robson, still on 24 but ranked No. 330 in singles and a nicer-looking No. 139 in doubles, it seems the wild-card well has finally run dry.

She played only doubles at Nottingham and Surbiton, 

A year ago, she received wild cards into the women’s and mixed doubles and wild cards into the singles in 2015 and 2016.

And whither Marcus Willis?

The 27-year-old, currently ranked No. 730 in singles and No. 219 in doubles, received a wild card into the Nottingham Challenger last week with Jay Clarke.

A year ago, that pairing reached the third round with a wild card at Wimbledon, pulling off a pair of five-set wins (including over Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut) before falling to the current No. 1 team of Marach and Pavic.

This year, Clarke has a wild card, but paired with Cameron Norrie.

The mixed-doubles wild cards (five of them) have yet to be announced. Robson, who has received one the last two years, may yet end up on the lush lawns.

If all the available wild-card spots aren’t filled, they would revert to the next in line on the entry lists.

Azarenka awarded Australian Open wild card

If Victoria Azarenka can make it, the Australian Open will welcome her with open arms.

Tournament director Craig Tiley announced Wednesday that the first Grand Slam of the season will give its two-time champion a wild card into the singles draw.

“Vika’s current situation is obviously very difficult for her and we have reached out to offer any support we can. As a two-time Australian Open champion we’ve awarded her a wildcard and look forward to seeing her back on court in Melbourne in January,” Tiley said in a statement.

The press-release quote from Azarenka:

“I’m so excited about coming back to Melbourne for the Australian Open, it’s my favourite tournament. I’ve won there twice and always feel so comfortable on court and the city is great,” Azarenka said. “It’s been a tough year and being able to come back to the AO will be a really positive way to start 2018. I’d like to thank Craig and his team for their understanding and support and can’t wait to see all my Aussie fans again.” 

Will the wild card be used?

The question, of course, is whether Azarenka will be able to resolve the custody of her one-year-old son Leo in time to start the 2018 season.

The WTA tuneup event in Auckland, New Zealand previously awarded the former No. 1 a wild card back on Nov. 21.

With her WTA ranking currently standing at No. 210, Azarenka would have been on the bubble to make the qualifying draw at the Australian Open.

But so far, there has been no indication that her custody issues are nearing a resolution. At times during the fall, she was in court several times a week, Tennis.Life was told.

When she does return, she’s going to be pretty rusty. Azarenka’s last match was a fourth-round defeat at Wimbledon. By the time Auckland rolls around, that’s six months without a match, piled on top of another year away during her maternity leave.

She also finds herself without a team, a consequence of her uncertain situation.

Coach Michael Joyce was the first to leave. He accepted a job coaching top-10 Brit Jo Konta.

Last week, trainer Ashcon Rezazadeh announced he also was leaving.

For a taste of summer: the AO playoff

Only three weeks remain until the 2018 tennis season officially begins.

But if you’re in one of those parts of the world where a peek outside the window means a look at some of the unwelcome white stuff (a FOOT of snow in the Atlanta suburbs? What’s up with that?), a taste of summer is near.

Monday in Melbourne (Sunday at 6 p.m. EST, 3 p.m. PST), the Australian Open wild-card playoff begins.

This isn’t the Asia-Pacific playoff, but a battle among the best Aussie players who won’t get direct entry into next month’s Grand Slam. They can earn their way in by winning a 16-player, knockout tournament this week.

Withdrawals and no-shows on the men’s side

For the men, each match is best-of-five. That may be one reason Bernard Tomic declined to take part; he may well prefer to take his chances in the regular qualifying next month, which is best-of-three sets.

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It would have been great to see Bernard Tomic in the AO wild-card playoff. But he took a pass. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

It seems gruelling. But it doubles as some invaluable experience in the best-of-five format that many of these players wouldn’t otherwise be able to have. So as a training tool, it’s a great move.

Tomic would have been a marquee attraction that would definitely bring more crowds to Melbourne Park.

Akira Santillan, at No. 145 one spot off a career best, is a flashy player with a one-handed backhand and was expected to be the top seed. But he’s not playing. Neither is Sam Groth, the veteran who will retire at the Australian Open. John-Patrick Smith and Jason Kubler also bowed out.

And the event wasn’t immune to the plague of 11th-hour withdrawals.

No. 4 seed Dayne Kelly pulled out after the draw, and was replaced by an alternate.

On the women’s side, Ellen Perez and Jessica Moore were late withdrawals after the original entry list was released.

Some of the players will be familiar to hardcore fans outside Australia.

There’s also a women’s doubles wild-card playoff.

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Singles draws

On the men’s side, No. 2 seed Alex de Minaur is the best of the recent crop of Aussie juniors.

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De Minaur was gracious in defeat to Denis Shapovalov in the 2016 Wimbledon junior boys singles final. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Currently ranked No. 208, he was the No. 2 junior in the world two years ago at age 16, when he reached the semis of the Australian Open juniors boys’ singles and won the doubles.

De Minaur also reached the Wimbledon junior final in 2016, beating Canadian teen Félix Auger-Aliassime in the quarters before falling to Auger-Aliassime’s good friend Denis Shapovalov in the final.

Omar Jasika, a 20-year-old lefty (currently No. 277), was the 2014 US Open junior singles and doubles champion. He earned the wild card a year ago (down two sets and a break in the third against Marinko Matosevic in the first round a year ago, it wasn’t looking good). 

He’s the No. 5 seed this year.

Two Rodionovas in the women’s draw

A feisty final for the women’s wild card would be No. 1 seed Arina Rodionova against her old sister, No. 7 seed Anastasia. Who doesn’t want to see that?

First up, though, Arina Rodionova faces Tomic. That’s Sara Tomic, Bernard’s younger sister.

Tomic, just 19, reached the semis of the junior girls’ singles two years ago out of the qualifying, reaching a career-best junior ranking of No. 36 in the process.  She’s currently ranked No. 466 on the WTA Tour, and played her entire 2017 season within Australia with the exception of a couple of small events in Thailand in May.

Destanee Aiava, who lost a marathon match this weekend in the finals of the national 18-and-under event to Jaimee Fourlis, is the No. 2 seed.

Livestreaming from all four courts

All four match courts are being livestreamed. That’s a big uptick from a few years ago, when one main court was streamed, with a look-in on a second court.

There’s commentary as well. Tennis Australia uses the event to give less-experienced and aspiring tennis broadcasters an opportunity to work on a live broadcast, which is also a great tool.

Here’s the order of play for Monday (play begins at 10 a.m. in Melbourne, 6 p.m. EST and 3 p.m. PST back in North America).

Men’s singles only on Monday (plus women’s doubles). The women’s singles kicks off on Tuesday.

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It looks as though there will be one hot day. But the rest of the week, the temperatures should be conducive to great tennis.

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(Accu-Weather forecast)

Here are the livestream links.

Court 8

Court 7

Court 10

Court 11

Wang, Kwon earn Australian Open wild cards

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)

Bouchard gets wild card into Beijing

Genie Bouchard will not have to suffer the rigors of qualifying this weekend.

The 23-year-old Canadian has been issued a wild card into the big Premier Mandatory tournament in Beijing. Bouchard left her home in Miami Wednesday to head for Asia for the first time during this Asian swing.

It will be Bouchard’s first tournament since losing in the first round of the US Open to Evgeniya Rodina of Russia.

(Update: she’ll play Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia in the first round. For an explanation on how she was able to get a fourth wild card this season, click here).

The China Open offers nearly $6.4 million in prize money. Other than the 10-day events in Indian Wells and Miami, that’s the biggest purse on the WTA Tour.

Bouchard’s ranking stood at No. 74 at the entry deadline. So she was still 14 spots out of the 60-player main draw as of Thursday evening back home. The Canadian would have been unseeded in the qualifying draw as well.

There certainly was a possibility Bouchard would just end her season. Or, at the least, skip the Asian swing entirely. But with a main-draw spot in Beijing, and a main-draw spot in the International-level event in Hong Kong the following week, the issue of a match-rusty Bouchard trying to qualify was off the table.

First appearance in Asia

Citing a slow recovery from the virus she contracted in New York after her first-round exit at the US Open, Bouchard withdrew from the Quebec City WTA event the week after the US Open.

She also withdrew from scheduled participation in the Korean Open in Seoul (main draw). And then, she also pulled out of qualifying for the Premier 5 tournament in Wuhan, China this week.

With the departure of coach Thomas Högstedt, Bouchard will not even have Roberto Brogin with her in Asia. Brogin, who worked with Bouchard when she first returned to the national training centre in Montreal from Florida nearly a decade ago, had filled in at various events in Högstedt’s absence this season.

He also has a full-time job with Tennis Canada at their training centre in Vancouver.

Blast from the past

Diego Ayala will be on board in Asia. Ayala, a coach based in south Florida, began the season with Bouchard down in Australia in 2015 after her split with Nick Saviano. Bouchard knew him from her younger days at Saviano’s academy.

Ayala’s agreement, we’re told is that he’ll be on board for the three tournaments remaining on Bouchard’s schedule for 2017.

So, barring anything unforeseen, that could well mean she intends to remain on the road for both Hong Kong and Luxemberg, two smaller events, to close it out.

At the time, Bouchard would not refer to Ayala as her “coach.” She preferred “hitting partner.” And upon returning home, she hired current Garbiñe Muguruza coach Sam Sumyk as a permanent replacement for Saviano.

But despite not playing any official warmup events, and under pressure to back up her breakthrough semifinal the previous year, Bouchard reached the quarterfinals in Australia with Ayala on board.

She lost in three sets to Maria Sharapova.

Beijing
Ayala, whom Bouchard has known since she was a young teenager, will reportedly be on the rest of the Asian swing with her. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Coincidentally, Sharapova also has a wild card into Beijing, announced last month.

The two names have been linked often recently, for other reasons. Their last meeting was blockbuster.

This linkage is a little more unexpected.  First-round wild-card popcorn, anyone?

(Chinese players Zhu Lin, Wang Yafan and Duan Ying-Ying also have wild cards into the main draw).

US Open wild cards announced

The US Tennis Association announced its US Open wild cards Tuesday.

And, as usual, with the exception of the reciprocal wild cards bartered with the Australian Open and the French Open, they are going to Americans.

There is one notable exception.

Maria Sharapova has been awarded a pass into the women’s singles main draw.

It’s a privilege she was denied at both the French Open and Wimbledon. But as a longtime US resident and a former champion, it seemed a reasonable slam-dunk.

What remains to be seen is whether she can play, after only one match since early May because of injuries.

The awarding of the wild card to the Russian Sharapova is exceptional. Tennis.Life looked back in the draws going back to 2007. And the only non-American or non-reciprocal wild card on the men’s side was … Juan Martin del Potro last year. On the women’s side, the only exception was in 2009, when Kim Clijsters received one.

Both, as with Sharapova, are former champions. 

Here are the wild cards.

Women’s singles

-Former champion Maria Sharapova
-Newly-crowned girls’ national 18s champion Ashley Kratzer
-NCAA champion Brienne Minor
-Taylor Townsend
-Kayla Day
-Wild-card challenge winner Sofia Kenin
-Amandine Hesse (French Federation reciprocal)
-Tennis Australia reciprocal (to be announced)

Men’s singles wild cards

-Taylor Fritz
-Bjorn Fratangelo
-Christopher Eubanks
-NCAA champion Thai-Son Kwiatkoswki
-Newly-crowned boys’ national 18s champion Patrick Kypson
-Wild-card challenge winner Tommy Paul
-Geoffrey Blancaneaux (French Federation reciprocal)
-Alex de Minaur (Tennis Australia reciprocal)

Women’s qualifying wild cards

-Usue Arconada
-Kelly Chen
-Francesca Di Lorenzo
-Victoria Duval
-Ashley Lahey
-Ann Li (junior Wimbledon runner-up)
-Claire Liu (junior Wimbledon champion)
-Whitney Osuigwe (junior French Open champion)
-Katerina Stewart  

Men’s qualifying wild cards

-William Blumberg 
-Marcos Giron
-Christian Harrison
-Evan King
-Bradley Klahn
-Austin Krajicek
-Raymond Sarmiento
-JJ Wolf   

A note of interest is that the average age of the men’s qualifying wild-card recipients is nearly 24; many are former college players. There’s a big group of current Americans either still teenagers or just out of it whose rankings are high enough to get into the main draw or qualifying on their own. But perhaps not so many in the high junior age range – or at least no one good enough that the USTA decided they merited wild cards.

In stark contrast, the average of the women’s qualifying wild-card recipients is just a shade over 18. 

Rogers Cup wild cards announced

WASHINGTON, D.C. – There were no surprises as the wild cards for the Rogers Cup Masters 1000 tournament in Montreal and Rogers Cup women’s Premier 5 event in Toronto next week were announced Tuesday.

On the men’s side, Vasek Pospisil and 18-year-old Denis Shapovalov had already received wild cards. Peter Polansky and Brayden Schnur will join them.

On the women’s side, Genie Bouchard and Maria Sharapova already has received free passes. Canadian Françoise Abanda was awarded the third wild card.

Abanda lost her first-round match Monday at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., 6-4, 6-4 to No. 4 seed Julia Goerges.

Veterans and youngsters in qualies

The qualifying wild cards also were announced.

The men: Philip Bester (who announced he was retiring in a few weeks), 2012 Wimbledon and US Open junior champion Filip Peliwo, 18-year-old Benjamin Sigouin and veteran Frank Dancevic.

The women: veteran Aleksandra Wozniak, top doubles player Gabriela Dabrowski, and teenagers Bianca Andreescu and Katherine Sebov.

There was one other qualifying wild card available. But Tennis Canada bartered it, trading it to Tennis Australia in exchange for a main draw wild card in Sydney for Bouchard at the beginning of the season.

Andreescu made her WTA Tour-level main-draw debut Monday at the Citi Open. She upset Camila Giorgi of Italy in the first round.

One final wild card into the qualifying will go to the winner of a pre-qualifying tournament taking place this week in Toronto. Among those expected to play was Carol Zhao, the former Stanford University player.

Zhao is at the Stanford WTA Tour event this week, having received a wild card into the doubles draw.

Sharapova, Azarenka among Cincy WCs

The joint ATP/WTA Tour event in Cincinnati next month announced its women’s wild cards Thursday.

The lucky recipients are Maria Sharapova (who also has a wild card into the Rogers Cup event in Toronto the previous week), Victoria Azarenka, comebacking American Sloane Stevens and Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic.

Vondrousova, who just turned 18, already is at a career-high No. 74 in the WTA Tour rankings. 

She won her first Tour title in Biel, Switzerland in the spring. And in that event, she went from the qualifying to the trophy. Vondrousova upset No. 1 seed Barbora Strycova in the semifinals and Anett Kontaveit of Estonia in the final.

Cincy
Vondrousova played Kasatkina, who defeated her in that French Open junior final, in the big girls’ division this year. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Two years ago, when she was still just 15, Vondrousova was the No. 1 junior in the world. She never won a junior Grand Slam title. But at 14, she was a semi-finalist at the junior French Open (losing to Daria Kasatkina) and at Wimbledon (losing to Jelena Ostapenko).

Vondrousova also was a semifinalist in the Paris juniors the next year, in 2015.

Stephens, Azarenka and Sharapova all coming back

Stephens is on the comeback trail from foot surgery. The American made her return at Wimbledon this year, playing singles, doubles and mixed. She won one round in women’s doubles. But at least the former world No. 11 is back.

Technically, her actual current ranking is No. 926. And Azarenka’s actual ranking this week is No. 203.

Cincy
Stephens, who had been out all season after foot surgery, got her tennis shoes wet at Wimbledon earlier this month. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Sharapova, who hasn’t played since suffering a thigh injury and retiring from her match at the Italian Open in early May, is scheduled to return next week at Stanford after playing a few matches in World Team Tennis.

Azarenka doesn’t technically need wild cards, as she can use a protected ranking of No. 6 to enter wherever she likes. But the new mom didn’t enter either Cincinnati or Montreal before the deadline.

She can avail herself of top-20 wild cards, without them counting against the limited number of tournaments in which she uses the protected ranking.