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Monday, October 11, 2021

USTA Announces Return of Australian Open Wild Card Challenge; Sarr Sweeps Titles at J5 in France; Brenda Fruhvirtova Adds Third Consecutive J1 Title in Croatia

After the USTA's annual Wild Card Challenges for the French, US and Australian Opens were suspended for 2020-2021 due to the pandemic, the organization announced on Friday the return of this method of awarding wild cards for the 2022 Australian Open.  Here's the full release:

ORLANDO, Fla., October 8, 2021 – The Australian Open Wild Card Challenge, which utilizes hard-court professional tournaments to award an American man and woman a main draw wild card into the Australian Open, is returning this fall and will begin next week. The USTA and Tennis Australia have a reciprocal agreement in which main draw wild cards for the 2022 Australian Open and US Open will be exchanged.


Both the men's and women's wild cards will be awarded to the Americans with the most ranking points earned at a maximum of three indoor and outdoor hard court tournaments during a four-week window. All indoor and outdoor hard-court events at the 25 level and above, including WTA and ATP Tour events, will be included in the Challenge.


The Women's Challenge begins next week and runs through the week of November 1.


The Men's Challenge begins the week of October 25 and runs through the week of November 15.


Americans who otherwise earn direct entry into the Australian Open are not eligible, nor are players ranked in the ATP or WTA Top 50 at the start of the Challenge. Should the player with the highest number of Challenge points earn direct entry into the Australian Open, the wild card will go to the next eligible American in the Challenge points standings. In the event of a tie, the player with the best ATP or best WTA singles ranking on November 8 for the women and November 22 for the men will earn the wild card.


Both wild card recipients will have to follow all Australian Open protocols as it relates to quarantine or vaccination.


The USTA has utilized this Challenge format to award wild cards into the Australian, French and US Opens. This is the first Challenge to be contested since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. 


Previous Americans to earn wild cards into the Australian Open (year specified is the year of the tournament):


2021: Not held

2020: Marcos Giron (1R); CoCo Vandweghe (1R)

2019: Jack Sock (1R); Whitney Osuigwe (1R)

2018: Tim Smyczek (2R); Kristie Ahn (1R)

2017: Michael Mmoh (1R); Kayla Day (1R)

2016: Noah Rubin (2R); Samantha Crawford (1R)

2015: Denis Kudla (1R); Irina Falconi (2R)

2014: Steve Johnson (1R); Sachia Vickery (1R)

2013: Rhyne Williams (1R); Madison Keys (3R)

2012: Jesse Levine (1R); Madison Keys (1R)

2011: Ryan Harrison (1R); Lauren Davis (1R)

2010: Ryan Harrison (1R); CoCo Vandeweghe (1R)

2009: John Isner (1R); Christina McHale (1R)

2008: Jesse Levine (2R); Madison Brengle (1R)

2007: Madison Brengle (1R); No men’s wild card competition.

The announcement used to provide the dates and cities of the tournaments being considered, but this year, there are almost no parameters, other than the dates and the surface, which is hard court only. Any tournament anywhere in the world that is at the $25K level and above qualifies, so that will make tracking the leaders during the four-week stretch a challenging job. 

The WTA 125 Dow Tennis Classic in Midland Michigan, which starts November 1, is the final week of the women's Wild Card Challenge, and could decide the Australian Open wild card for 2022. The Dow, normally played the first week of February, was moved to November this year due to the pandemic, and has been upgraded from an ITF WTT 100 to a WTA 125. I plan to attend the tournament for a day or two, as I have done for the past six years.

In ITF Junior Circuit action last week that was not the ITF JB1 in Nicholasville Kentucky, 17-year-old Jelani Sarr won his first two career ITF junior titles at the J5 in Honfleur France. Sarr, who was seeded No. 1 in both singles and doubles, has been playing ITF events in Europe since competing at the USTA Boys 18s Nationals in August. In singles, Sarr defeated unseeded Iannis Fernandes of France 6-0, 6-2 in the final; in doubles, the top-seeded team of Sarr and Belgium's Natan D'Hulst defeated the unseeded French team of Bogdan Desy and Theo Mottier 6-4, 6-2 in the final. 

The only other title of the week (aside from those won by Liv Hovde, Jack Anthrop and Qavia Lopez) for American juniors came at the J4 in the Dominican Republic. Jackson Armistead and Elias Shokry won the doubles title, with the No. 4 seeds defeating the unseeded Chilean team of Diego Jarry Fillol and Matias Rojas 1-6, 6-4, 10-6 in the final. It's the first ITF junior circuit title for both 17-year-old Americans.

Fourteen-year-old Brenda Fruhvirtova of the Czech Republic won her third consecutive J1 title, all since August, in Vrsar Croatia last week. The top seed defeated No. 6 seed Celine Naef of Switzerland 7-6(2), 6-2 in the final, with all five of her wins coming in straight sets. The only blemish on Fruhvirtova's record since winning the J1 in College Park at the end of August, which started her current 16-match J1 winning streak is a US Open girls first round qualifying loss to American Ariana Pursoo.

Fruhvirtova, who also won the doubles title with Barbora Palicova of the Czech Republic, is now up to No. 10 in the ITF junior rankings, just two spots behind her 16-year-old sister Linda.

No. 5 seed Mili Poljicak of Croatia won the boys title, beating unseeded Kilian Feldbausch of Switzerland 2-6, 6-0, 6-4 in the final.