Newcombe Expresses Doubts about Tomic's Progress; Kubler's AO Wild Card; Sock's Practice with Roddick
Tennis Australia's wild card tournament finished in the midst of the Junior Orange Bowl, so I wasn't able to give it the coverage I would have liked. The men's wild card was won by Nick Lindahl, who saved five match points against 17-year-old Bernard Tomic to win the best-of-five-sets final 6-7(6), 6-1, 4-6, 7-6(8), 6-3. For more on the men's final, see this story from Linda Pearce of the Sydney Morning Herald. The women's wild card awarded to the tournament winner went to Casey Dellacqua, who also saved match points in her 1-6, 7-6(9), 6-3 victory over 18-year-old Olivia Rogowska. For more on that match, see Pearce's story.
A few days later, Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley announced the recipients of the discretionary wild cards remaining, with both Tomic and Rogowska receiving one, along with Alicia Molik, who is returning from injury but fell in the tournament quarterfinals, and Carsten Ball, who was injured and did not compete in the tournament. Also given a main draw wild card was 16-year-old junior Jason Kubler, who won just one match in the round robin portion of the wild card tournament.
Kubler, who won the Australian 18-and-under title and is currently fourth in the ITF world junior rankings, has proven to be a controversial selection. Having yet to win a Futures-level main draw match in the nine tournaments he has played at that level, and having played only one junior slam, last year's Australian, where as a wild card, he lost in the first round of singles and doubles, Kubler will need to adapt to the sport's highest level in a hurry next month. Most criticizing Kubler's elevation to the main draw believe he would have been better served with a qualifying wild card.
Tomic, who won a main draw match from Potito Starace of Italy at this year's Australian Open, was expected to receive a wild card with a decent showing at the tournament. But not everyone in Australia is foreseeing greatness for him. John Newcombe voiced his reservations recently in an AAP story that appeared in Perth Now.
"I think he's got a long way to go," the seven-time grand slam winner said.
"He's done well in the junior ranks and has got a couple of minor results in the seniors, but there is nothing yet to indicate that he will become a top-20 player.
"It's a very important year for Bernard, because if he doesn't make the advances and with the hype about him being so great it could end badly."
A bit more optimism is expressed by Darren Walton in his AAP story about the hiring of Spain's Felix Mantilla to assist in training Australians in the finer points of clay court tennis. Davis Cup captain John Fitzgerald and Tiley, who also heads TA Player Developmet, are encouraged by Tomic, Kubler and Luke Savile and by this:
"Of the top 25 youngest players in the world that are ranked on the senior tour - not the junior tour - four of them are Australian, and that's more than any other nation," Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley told AAP.I'm not sure there's much relevance in that statistic myself, and find it disturbing that there is absolutely no mention of college as a development tool in all of this, despite the fact that several of the players invited to the wild card playoff were current or recent U.S. collegians, and that one of the two Australian men currently in the top 100, No. 77 Peter Luczak, played three seasons at Fresno State. I also don't understand why playing junior events should be discouraged, unless it is simply too expensive given the travel costs from Australia.
Tiley goes on to cite the benchmarks necessary for TA support, but I think those guidelines fail to take into account the different development curves.
Rest assured there will be much more discussion about all of the issues facing Australian tennis as next month's first slam approaches.
I believe I mentioned in a post that Jack Sock had spent time hitting with Andy Roddick after the Orange Bowl, and the Kansas City Star published this story about Sock's experience. In addition to relaying details of the practice session, the story reveals that Sock has been contacted about signing professionally by three sports management agencies, but that he is not ready to forego college. Sock's coach, Mike Wolf, has this to say:
“He’s going to make money playing tennis, but he also has a lot of hard work ahead of him before he can compete at the level he wants to professionally.”