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post #1 of 20 (permalink) Old Oct 2nd, 2003, 02:28 AM Thread Starter
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Elke and the wildcards

Wild (card) Kingdom
Recently we heard a rumor -- and it's just a rumor, there is no reason to believe that it's true and we've done no research on the matter and don't intend to -- that the Clijsters family is attempting to use older sister Kim's participation in tournaments as leverage to help younger sister Elke. That is, that the family (specifically, the father) is telling tournaments, "If you don't give Elke a wildcard, Kim won't play either."

There is at least one good reason to think this isn't true, and that's that it's doing Elke exactly zero good. It perhaps says something about heredity and environment: Kim is the world's top player, at least in the rankings (and certainly top five no matter how you slice things) -- and Elke is barely in the Top 400 despite playing a full schedule and getting into a lot of tournaments because of her name. She's had some decent results in junior doubles -- but in singles, she's nowhere and shows no signs of going anywhere. If she is to improve at all -- and there is no particular reason to think that she will, though we won't say it's impossible -- then she needs to play more low-level events and get some matches in, rather than play at the Tour level and get spanked.

But suppose it's all true. Suppose tournaments are being blackmailed into giving Elke Clijsters wildcards. Does it matter?

Probably less than you'd think. Because there are actually restrictions on wildcards. Though these are quite complicated. Gold Exempt players (roughly the top fifteen plus a few other players) have unlimited wildcards available, for reasons to be explained below. But Silver Exempts (roughly, the players ranked #20 to #50) do not: "Silver Exempt players may receive a total of 7 Wild Cards in singles and 7 Wild Cards in doubles during the calendar year with a maximum of 5 Wild Cards in the Main Draw in each of singles and doubles" (WTA rules, III.B.6.e). For lower-ranked players, the rules are even more strict: "Except as otherwise set forth, the maximum number of Wild Cards any player may receive into a WTA Tour singles Tournament (including Grand Slams) during a Tour Year is six (6) with a maximum of three (3) allowed in the Main Draw. Players will forfeit any ranking points earned at Tour Tournaments and Grand Slam events by the acceptance of Wild Cards above this limit" (XII.C.5.a.iii).

Of course, there are a lot of exceptions and footnotes, e.g. "Players who have competed in professional Tour Tournaments for ten (10) years or more (not necessarily consecutively) will be allowed three (3) additional Wild Cards, either in Main Draw or in Qualifying" (III.C.5.c.iii), and "Any player who is a past singles champion of a Grand Slam or Tour Championship will be allowed an unlimited number of Singles Main Draw Wild Card nominations, including the Gold/Silver Exempt Wild Card nomination, if such player is a Gold or Silver Exempt player" (III.C.5.c.iv). But only handful of players meet these conditions -- Elke Clijsters, for instance, is not Gold Exempt, is not Silver Exempt, is not a ten year veteran, and has not won a Slam at the WTA level. So she is limited to three main draw wildcards and three qualifying wildcards.

And then, too, there aren't that many wildcards to hand out. Theoretically, there are four at every Tour event (except the year-end championships), and more at larger events. But it's not that simple; the tournaments don't entirely control who gets wildcards. The WTA also has a voice.

And that's a good thing.

It's good because the WTA bans appearance fees. At least officially, and the Gold Exempt rules are set up in such a way that they really aren't needed. The WTA guarantees a certain number of top players to all events above the Tier IV level, and guarantees gold exempt players (i.e. big names) to the Tier II and stronger events. That means that you simply don't see the sort of situation we had recently at Bangkok, where four of the top eleven men were signed up (and three played) -- and no one else of any significance was in the draw. There isn't much doubt that a player or two (usually Anna Kournikova or a Williams) gets paid a "consulting fee" or the like by a lot of tournaments. But appearance fees do not decide who plays and who doesn't; most of the players in the field at a WTA event are there simply for the prize money. And even the Gold Exempts have to meet some significant standards: A high ranking the year before, or a year-end Top Ten ranking, or something. Plus they have obligations to meet.

But if the WTA is to supply a guaranteed field, it has to be able to put the players into the draw. Which means, if they don't sign up initially, that they must be wildcarded. And so the WTA reserves a "gold/silver exempt wildcard" for meeting obligations to tournaments. For instance, Moscow is a Tier I. That means the WTA owes it at least one of the top three Gold Exempts -- Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Jennifer Capriati. It was pretty clear that neither of the Sisters would play. So the WTA had little choice but to beg, coax, or cajole Capriati into playing; it could even hard assign her to Moscow if it hasn't already hard assigned her elsewhere (though we suspect it had previously hard assigned her, to the Pan Pacific and maybe other events; leave it to the tournament directors to name the three players who play least as the top three Gold Exempts). But the WTA could only plug Capriati into the draw if there is a wildcard available with which to plug her in (and, indeed, she is in the draw because of a wildcard). Thus the WTA has to have the right to name wildcards at every event. The tournament names two (or more at larger events), but only the Slams name all their wildcards.

So what it comes down to is that it's very hard for an inexperienced player to engage in "wildcard abuse." For starters, there are only about 200 main draw wildcard slots available to tournament directors. And the inexperienced players (whether genuine prospects like Maria Sharapova or Michaela Krajicek or seeming stiffs like Elke Clijsters or Jaslyn Hewitt) can't take many of them anyway.

I can hear you thinking that it would be nice if the Sharapovas and Krajiceks could get more wildcards. But the WTA has a better answer for that: The play-up: Win a low-level Challenger, get direct entry into a high-level Challenger. Win a high-level Challenger, get direct entry into a low-level Tour event. This program could perhaps be expanded (e.g. if you are under 16 and win a Challenger, you get two direct entries; also, while players can play up into low-level Tour events, there is a "glass ceiling" at the Tier II; it would be nice if winning a Tier V should confer direct entry into a Tier II). But that's a detail.

Does this mean that there is no wildcard abuse at all? It depends on your definition. There are players who ride wildcards, but they're older. Jennifer Capriati, for several years in the late Nineties, was getting into main draws almost exclusively by wildcard. Iva Majoli for a while was using six or more wildcards in a year. That, to the author's mind, is wildcard abuse: If you want to get into tournaments, you should get into shape and work on your game and you won't need wildcards -- as indeed Capriati proved in 2001. But these weren't no-names grabbing wildcards; the very reason Majoli, e.g., could take all those wildcards was because she was a Slam winner. So there is no blackmail involved -- at worst, it was an overinflated estimate of a player's remaining potential.

The wildcard situation may not be ideal -- but at worst it's a very minor problem.

From Bob Larson´s tennisnewsletter.

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post #2 of 20 (permalink) Old Oct 2nd, 2003, 12:44 PM
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Why in the world would a tournament operator pay a player a "consulting fee". (Can you say "bribe")? And whether its pervasive or not, I challenge ANYONE here to give another explanation of why Elke got one into Leipzig. (Whether a stickup nets any loot doesn't change it having been a "crime")!
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post #3 of 20 (permalink) Old Oct 2nd, 2003, 12:48 PM
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Tournaments Directors give wildcards to players that will bring in sponsors and/or money.

This is nothing new. Tennis is about money like anything else...

Why do you think Anna Kournikova gets in whatever tournament she wants? Because she might win Wimbledon in 2004?
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post #4 of 20 (permalink) Old Oct 2nd, 2003, 12:49 PM Thread Starter
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I´m telling you if it was Richard who was doing the things Lei is doing/ saying, the whole world press would be on him.

But because we have here a father of two white kids, people act like it is nothing.

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post #5 of 20 (permalink) Old Oct 2nd, 2003, 12:50 PM
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...Kim is only #1 because she plays so much, so if she pulls out of a tournament she's more likely to lose out than the organizers...I don't think, even as a #1, she's popular or important enough to be 'blackmailing' anyone, really...
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post #6 of 20 (permalink) Old Oct 2nd, 2003, 12:51 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tripp
Tournaments Directors give wildcards to players that will bring in sponsors and/or money.

This is nothing new. Tennis is about money like anything else...

Why do you think Anna Kournikova gets in whatever tournament she wants? Because she might win Wimbledon in 2004?

Fool, because she as a Gold Exempt! I know that her potential is long gone...but come on Anna vs Elke is a non-contest.

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post #7 of 20 (permalink) Old Oct 2nd, 2003, 12:54 PM
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the name clijsters carries some weight.
and back to my first question. why do you think kournikova is gold exempt, wildcards, etc, etc, etc!!!???

it is the same answer. she looks much better than 99% of the other girls.... it is not contest. she sells tickets so it is about money...
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post #8 of 20 (permalink) Old Oct 2nd, 2003, 01:04 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tripp
the name clijsters carries some weight.
and back to my first question. why do you think kournikova is gold exempt, wildcards, etc, etc, etc!!!???

it is the same answer. she looks much better than 99% of the other girls.... it is not contest. she sells tickets so it is about money...
I don´t really see the comparison between anna and elke. You don´t really believe people are paying to come watch Elke Clijsters play, do you?! Not even for no.1 Kim....

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post #9 of 20 (permalink) Old Oct 2nd, 2003, 07:27 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bandabou
I don´t really see the comparison between anna and elke. You don´t really believe people are paying to come watch Elke Clijsters play, do you?! Not even for no.1 Kim....
Of course nobody thinks ppl came to see Elke play! But given the presently depleted state of the tour (where Jen was forced to play Moscow, for example, as discussed in another thread), Kim's presence was indeed important to Leipzig, and Lei knew that. And basically extorted a WC for a player (Elke) ranked #390 @ the beginning of last week (despite being months older than Kim was @ RG '01). One who is unlikely to EVER be Top 30 in singles, and has no geographic ties to the area. And who (though very pretty), doesn't have the Anna hype, or even that of Ashley, re. selling tix. So Anton's analysis is 100% correct; AND there was a clear victim in Anca. When the Barna's, both now engineers BTW, fled Ceacescu's Romania for the then West Germany, they thought they were going to raise their kids in a land of opportunity. So as GER celebrates Unification Day tommorrow, think about that!
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post #10 of 20 (permalink) Old Oct 2nd, 2003, 08:01 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JollyRoger
Of course nobody thinks ppl came to see Elke play! But given the presently depleted state of the tour (where Jen was forced to play Moscow, for example, as discussed in another thread), Kim's presence was indeed important to Leipzig, and Lei knew that. And basically extorted a WC for a player (Elke) ranked #390 @ the beginning of last week (despite being months older than Kim was @ RG '01). One who is unlikely to EVER be Top 30 in singles, and has no geographic ties to the area. And who (though very pretty), doesn't have the Anna hype, or even that of Ashley, re. selling tix. So Anton's analysis is 100% correct; AND there was a clear victim in Anca. When the Barna's, both now engineers BTW, fled Ceacescu's Romania for the then West Germany, they thought they were going to raise their kids in a land of opportunity. So as GER celebrates Unification Day tommorrow, think about that!
I was gonna ask: "Can you imagine if Richard did such a thing when Venus was already a star, but Serena was just coming up?!" But then I realized that the simple fact that Lei has to do this for Elke to get entry in a tournament, says plenty of the potential or shall I say LACK thereof of Elke!

Richard didn´t have to this, ´cause Serena was good enough to earn entrance on her own merits! The more you read things like this, the more amazing Serena and Venus become: two sisters such closely matched in talent!

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post #11 of 20 (permalink) Old Oct 3rd, 2003, 12:37 AM
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How many WC's has Elke got in the past year?

Sorry if it said in article... i got a little zzzzzz halfway thru
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post #12 of 20 (permalink) Old Oct 3rd, 2003, 12:54 AM
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Yeah, had such a disparity existed between the W/S and Richard did that, there'd have been a massive uproar. And re. how many Elke got, I don't know (and there's often a national or regional angle like when Dani Kix of AUT, well outside the Top 100, got one for Linz last year. (Maybe Elke did for Antwerp and/or Rosmalen this year, though Caroline Maes of BEL is ranked well higher @ least now). Which is NOT the point. Elke was ranked #390 going into Leipzig, and has no connection to Germany (even by "native tongue" like the Babsi's). No "glamour angle", though I never liked the ova-emphasis on Anna for that anyway. No "legacy" like when Martina I briefly returned to singles, and Martina II might yet. NOTHING except a father willing to pull strings, and a (#1 ranked) sister willing to @ least "look the other way".
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post #13 of 20 (permalink) Old Oct 3rd, 2003, 01:11 AM
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I mean a wilcard at Antwerp I can understand but the rest I think its just because of Kim.

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post #14 of 20 (permalink) Old Oct 3rd, 2003, 01:26 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RYNJ
I mean a wilcard at Antwerp I can understand but the rest I think its just because of Kim.
Why should Elke get it @ Antwerp '04 when Caroline Maes is ranked a good deal higher, and while Kirsten isn't yet, she should be after the Oz season (and can kick the crap out of Elke in singles anyway - she only has less points as she was still a junior most of the year).
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post #15 of 20 (permalink) Old Oct 3rd, 2003, 04:58 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bandabou
I´m telling you if it was Richard who was doing the things Lei is doing/ saying, the whole world press would be on him.

But because we have here a father of two white kids, people act like it is nothing.
You say its a rumor but...? Well, maybe it is a rumor that's why no one is talking about it obviously. Elke has only gotten 1 wildcard into a WTA even this year.

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