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Wildcard policy under fire, reports Tim Colebatch.

Four years ago, Amanda Grahame had all of Australia cheering for her as she pushed Serena Williams to the brink of defeat at the Australian Open. This year she could not even get a wildcard into the qualifying rounds at her home-town event.

Under Tennis Australia's policy of giving virtually all wildcards into qualifying rounds to young players, Grahame at 24 was denied one into even the qualifying rounds of the Canberra women's classic.

Two years ago she was a semi-finalist at the event, the only Australian to get so far. But that meant nothing as Tennis Australia gave its wildcards to three juniors and a 19-year-old. All four were thrashed in the opening round, winning just 17 games between them.

Grahame scraped into the draw on Thursday when some players failed to arrive. But after losing in three sets to Italian Antonella Serra Zanetti, she criticised Tennis Australia's policy of discriminating against players in the prime of tennis life. "I was disappointed and really shocked", Grahame said.

"To think it's my local tournament, and they wouldn't even give me a wildcard into the qualifying.

"Australian players often peak between 25 and 30, like Nicole Pratt. But their attitude is that when you're over 22, they don't bother about you anymore."

On the results, Tennis Australia's policy has failed. Last year it gave out 23 wildcards into the qualifying rounds of its five women's events, all but one to youngsters with an average age of 18.

Of those 22, not one qualified, and 19 lost in the first round of the qualifiers, 17 of them dumped in straight sets. This year the policy is faring no better. So far young players have been given 15 of the 16 wildcards into qualifying events.

But 14 lost in the opening round, 12 of them in straight sets.

Meanwhile, higher-ranked Australians in their mid and late-20s have been confined to the practice courts, watching teenagers squander chances denied to them.

Tournament director Janet Young denied Tennis Australia was discriminating against older players, saying wildcards into qualifying were seen as a springboard for players to develop.

"I can understand Amanda's disappointment, but I can also understand that the selectors had to balance a number of factors", she said. Grahame spent last year on the sidelines with a foot injury, and had no recent form to recommend her. But her protected (pre-injury) ranking of 217 in the world still makes her Australia's sixth-highest ranked player.

The series starts today, with rising Russian Nadia Petrova, Argentinian Paola Suarez and Italian Silvia Farina Elia as the top three seeds. Sydney players Evie Dominikovic (23) and Monique Adamczak (20) have wildcards into the draw.
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