No token Australian Open wildcards, warns Craig Tiley
October 09, 2008 12:00am
AUSTRALIA'S proven grand slam performers and its new batch of talent are on course for a Melbourne Park collision before January's Australian Open.
The tournament starts in December for many Aussies before they can jostle for a share of the record prizemoney of more than $21 million on offer at Melbourne Park from January 19.
Lleyton Hewitt, Chris Guccione, Casey Dellacqua and Sam Stosur are the only Australians currently guaranteed main-draw starts.
December's wildcard playoffs loom as a crunch week for Mark Philippoussis, Jelena Dokic, Bernard Tomic, Brydan Klein, Carsten Ball and Sam Groth.
Tomic, the junior Open champion, is likely to be strongly considered for one of four discretionary wildcards.
But it is no secret Tennis Australia would prefer the Queenslander to secure a main-draw berth under his own steam.
"The playoff is an opportunity, so if he wins that he 100 per cent gets a wildcard," tournament director Craig Tiley said.
"He's on the list (of contenders for a discretionary wildcard). There's a pool of them on the list.
"We'll make a decision on performance.
"Tomic's still young. He's 15 and turns 16 in a couple of weeks, but he's a young kid and he hasn't had that type of experience. I think he's going to be a great player.
"Carsten Ball has had a great run. Sam Groth has probably got the biggest serve I've seen in a long, long time.
"And Brydan Klein, an Australian Open junior champion, is doing well."
With three of the eight men's wildcards destined for Asian, French and US players, five wildcards are notionally free for locals.
Former world No. 8 Philippoussis and former world No. 4 Dokic could apply for promotion into the 128-player fields.
Philippoussis has told TA he wants to return to the highest level.
"He wants to come back and play," Tiley said.
"Play is an interesting definition because is it at that level (grand slam) or the level of the senior tour? "I think he would like to do both. But it's a hard road and a long road back.
"He's been injured a lot and it's a tough gig for Mark. He would be welcome to come and compete in the playoff."
The same applies to Dokic.
"She's fifth or sixth right now in the rankings among the Australian players," Tiley said.
"I did tell her in January that I wasn't happy with her response to not being awarded a wildcard.
"She wasn't awarded a wildcard because these things have to be earned. They're privileges not rights.
"She has been in touch and I said to her, like I said last year, 'There are no free handouts'.
"She will have a chance, too, in the wildcard playoff."