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Friday, January 6, 2023

Kuzuhara, Five Former Collegians Receive Australian Open Qualifying Wild Cards; USA Advances to United Cup Final; Singer Sentenced in Varsity Blues Scandal; Ram In, Fish Out for US Davis Cup Match Next Month

The Australian Open has released the names of all the wild cards for the year's first major, which begins with qualifying matches Sunday, January 8th. 

The main draw women's wild cards feature just four Australians: Jaimee Fourlis, Storm Hunter, Olivia Gadecki and 18-year-old Talia Gibson. Venus Williams received a wild card, as did Taylor Townsend, who was given the USTA's reciprocal wild card when Caty McNally got into the draw on her own ranking. 2019 ITF World Junior Champion Diane Parry of France received the French federation's reciprocal wild card, and Moyuka Uchijima of Japan received the Asia-Pacific wild card Tennis Australia bestows.

Four Australian men also received main draw wild cards: John Millman, Alexei Popyrin, Jason Kubler and former North Carolina star Rinky Hijkata. The other four wild cards were given to Dominic Thiem of Austria, 2017 US Open boys champion Wibing Yu of China, 2021 Roland Garros champion Luca Van Assche received the French reciprocal wild card, and Chris Eubanks(Georgia Tech) was given the USTA's reciprocal wild card when Ben Shelton moved into the main draw on his own ranking.

The Australian Open main draw wild card release is here.

The qualifying wild cards were much more Australian-centric, with only 2022 Australian Open boys champion Bruno Kuzuhara of the US not playing under the Australian flag. 

Kuzuhara is not the only 18-year-old to receive a men's qualifying wild card, with Edward Winter, Jeremy Jin and Derek Pham the others. Nineteen-year-olds Philip Sekulic and James McCabe received qualifying wild cards, as did Tristan Schoolkate, Dane Sweeney and former University of Tennessee All-American Adam Walton. 

None of the women's qualifying wild cards are teens, but four are former collegians: Astra Sharma(Vanderbilt), Ellen Perez(Georgia), Petra Hule(Florida State) and Elysia Bolton(UCLA). Bolton began representing Australia last year after playing under the United States' flag throughout her junior and college careers. The other women's qualifying wild cards were given to Kaylah McPhee, Alexandra Bosovic, Lizette Cabrera, Seone Mendez and Destanee Aiava.

For more on the qualifying wild cards, see this article.

The United States will play in the inaugural United Cup final Sunday after Taylor Fritz defeated Poland's Hubert Hurkacz 7-6(5), 7-6(5) tonight put the USA up 3-0 and clinch the victory. Jessica Pegula had beaten WTA No. 1 Iga Swiatek 6-2, 6-2 last night, with Frances Tiafoe making it 2-0 with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Kacper Zuk. The US awaits the winner of the match between top-seed Greece and Italy, which Italy currently leads 2-0. 

Rick Singer, the central figure in the Varsity Blues scandal, was sentenced today to three and a half years in prison for his role in helping get the children of wealthy parents into colleges they were not qualified to attend by falsifying their test scores or lying about their athletic credentials. This CNN article is a very good overview of the entire scandal.

The USTA announced its Davis Cup team for the qualifying tie February 3-4 in Uzbekistan, with Tommy Paul, Jenson Brooksby, Mackenzie McDonald, Austin Krajicek and Rajeev Ram representing the United States. Ram, then No. 1 in the ATP doubles rankings, was controversially left off the team for November's final and the US lost the deciding doubles point to Italy in the quarterfinals. 

The Davis Cup captaincy of Mardy Fish, not helped by that loss and the ensuing controversy, is over, with the USTA saying in its release that they and Fish "mutually agreed to move in a new direction with the Davis Cup captaincy in 2023." An interim captain will be named for the Uzbekistan tie, with more information on the search for a permanent replacement for Fish expected soon.