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Australian Open officials cop blowback over ‘harsh’ move against Aussie No.1 Arina Rodionova as wildcards announced

Australian Open officials cop blowback over ‘harsh’ move against Aussie No.1 Arina Rodionova as wildcards announced

Australian Open officials have copped blowback after their first set of wildcards for the 2024 tournament ignored the country’s top-ranked player, the current world No.1 doubles star and a popular veteran.

The women’s cohort suffered a huge setback when Ash Barty retired in March 2022 and this year injuries conspired to drop Ajla Tomljanovic and Daria Saville out of the top 100.

Kim Birrell bounced back from her own physical troubles to sit as high as world No.110 and the 25-year-old has been rewarded with a wildcard into the Melbourne grand slam.

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But newly crowned doubles world No.1 Storm Hunter (singles world No.171) was not, nor was Daria Saville (world No.203).

Arina Rodionova, Australia’s current No.1 sitting one place above Birrell, also missed out on a place in the main draw.

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Rodionova sat as low as 350th in the world in February but tallied 78 victories in 2023, losing just 26 matches, to reach 112th in the year-end rankings.

That, though, wasn’t enough for the 33-year-old to be gifted a place in the Australian Open at the first opportunity.

“Rodionova wasn’t given a wildcard in the initial batch, which seems way harsh for a country’s No.1,” veteran tennis reporter Ben Rothenberg wrote.

Australia’s No.1 women’s player Arina Rodionova has missed out on a wildcard into the Australian Open. Credit: Getty

One fan said: “They really did not give a wildcard to their highest-ranked player (Rodionova) with 80 wins this season, talk about dumb decisions.”

Another questioned “where is Rodionova????” while one responded: “Tennis Australia must really hate her.”

One of Rodionova, Saville or Hunter could yet receive a late wildcard but will otherwise remain on the alternates list for the time being.

All three could be forced to qualify for the Australian Open, likely joined by world No.125 Astra Sharma.

“It is so annoying that only one of Saville, Rodionova or Hunter can get that last remaining wildcard … Australian women’s tennis really is in the middle of a dark age,” one fan declared.

Just four Australian women are locked into the main draw as things stand.

Birrell has been joined by Ajla Tomljanovic, who has used a protected ranking to enter the grand slam, while officials also handed wildcards to 21-year-old Olivia Gadecki and 18-year-old Taylah Preston.

Gadecki sits at a career-high 127th in the rankings while Preston is 202nd, also a career high, after her first full year as a professional.

Tomljanovic has used a protected ranking to enter the grand slam. Credit: AAP

Former world No.1 and 2018 Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki was the headline wildcard recipient

The Dane retired after the 2020 tournament in Melbourne and subsequently had two children, before announcing her comeback to tennis in June this year.

The 33-year-old enjoyed almost immediate success by reaching the fourth round of the US Open.

Wozniacki will head to Australia with ex-NBA star husband David Lee and their two young kids in tow.

“I have so many wonderful memories of Melbourne, and of course winning the Australian Open is an all-time career highlight,” she said in a statement.

“Coming back to my favourite slam as a new mum – and bringing my two kids – will be a huge thrill. The whole family is so excited.

“I’m truly grateful to everyone for the wildcard and having the opportunity to compete again at the AO in January.”

Former champion Caroline Wozniacki will be back in Melbourne. Credit: AAP

Grand slam champion Emma Raducanu missed out on a wildcard and is relying on an alternative path into the tournament.

The 21-year-old’s ranking has slipped to world No.296 but she can use a protected ranking of No.103 to enter events.

But that is not currently high enough to earn a place in the Australian Open main draw.

Without a host of withdrawals or a late wildcard, Raducanu will have to go through qualifying for the first time since she won the 2021 US Open.

Emma Raducanu will start her year in Auckland as she targets an Australian Open return. (James Ross/AAP PHOTOS) Credit: AAP

On the men’s side, Aussie veteran James Duckworth received a wildcard just four days after being married in Queensland.

He was ranked as high as 46th in the world last year and only missed direct entry into the 2024 Australian Open by 10 spots.

“I’m very excited to be back playing the Australian Open again. It’s my favourite tournament of the year,” the current world No.116 said.

“I have so many great memories playing in Melbourne. I felt like I was starting to gain some momentum towards the end of the year and I’m looking forward to building on that for the Australian summer.”

Aussie duo Adam Walton and Marc Polmans also received wildcards.

– with AAP

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