Are Tennis Wild Cards Useless?

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Tennis wild cards are players included in the main draw at the sole discretion of the tournament. Most often a wild card is a rising star, local favorite, or former champion whose current ranking wouldn’t merit entry.

I’ve always had the feeling the the Wild Cards system had to be reviewed, because I expect a professional show from a professional tennis tournament and I have seen too many times Wild Cards that could not offer any kind of decent show.

So I checked every draw on the ATP World Tour and Challenger Tour to see the behaviour of Wild Cards: to make the statistics easier I considered only draws with 28/32 players so that we have the same rounds for every tournament.

Sometimes the Wild Card could also become a seeded player, in case the player forgot to sign-in for the tournament or in case he changed his mind.

As you can see for ATP World Tour , in this case, the Wild Card Seeded player performed decently.

ATP World Tour – Seeded

1R 2R QF SF F

W

1 2 3 3 2

2

But only  13/137 Wild Cards were granted to seeded players; what about unseeded players?

ATP World Tour – Not Seeded

1R 2R QF SF F

W

78 36 7 3 0

0

It’s pretty blatant that Wild Cards results have been bad and if you consider the overall situation (seeded + uneeded) you can see that 85.4% of the Wild Cards lost between first and second round.

ATP World Tour – Total

1R

2R

QF

SF F

W

79 38 10 6 2

2

57.7% 27.7% 7.3% 4.4% 1.5%

1.5%

Is the situation on ATP Challenger tour different?

The situation is worse and there are two main reasons:

  • On the ATP World Tour, the bigger stage, organizers cannot allow themselves to assign a Wild Card to a poor local player, because the show would be too bad for spectators.
  • On the ATP World Tour,  there are generally three assigned Wild Cards while on ATP Challenger Tour there are 4.

Let’s see the behaviour of seeded Wild Cards at the Challenger level

ATP Challenger Tour – Seeded

1R

2R QF SF F

W

6 6 6 6 5

5

The percentage of seeded players losing in 1st or 2nd round moveded from 25% on the ATP World Tour to 35% on the ATP Challenger Tour.

The unseeded situation is pretty horrific:

ATP Challenger Tour – Not Seeded

1R

2R QF SF F

W

428 121 31 11 5

2

549 Wild Cards out of 598 lost in 1st or 2nd round!

The overall number on ATP Challenger Tour:

ATP Challenger Tour – Total

1R

2R QF SF F

W

434 127 37 17 10

7

68.7% 20.1% 5.9% 2.7% 1.6%

1.1%

And the overall situation at ATP level (considering only 28/32 draws so excluding Grand Slams and Master 1000 a and a few other tournaments with 48/56 draws) in 2015 has been the following:

ATP World and Challenger Tour – Total

1R

2R QF SF F W
513 165 47 23 12

9

66.7% 21.5% 6.1% 3.0% 1.6%

1.2%

Now that numbers are pretty clear let’s make some proposals to improve the actual situation.

First of all ATP should really reduce Wild Cards to 1 or maximum 2.

I will absolutely force the Wild Cards system toward the merit.

Organizers should assign a WC with a tournament played the week before (as they do for example for ATP/WTA Rome Master Series) or calculating the results of a series of lower level tournaments played during the weeks before: this system is already in place for some tournaments. In these days, Australian Tennis Federation assigned a Wild Card into the Australian Open to the winner of the local Under 18 tournament.

If you are on the top of a lower level tournament you could have chances to play competitive matches at higher level: if you didn’t prove anything to anyone but you just have been granted a Wild Card, the chances are much lower.

I can hear some doubts:

  •  What about rising stars? Why do you want to deny them a place in the Main Draw? They can play the qualifying tournament and check if they are ready for that level: if they are they will earn themselves a spot in the Main Draw
  • What about local players? Why do you want to deny them the dream of playing against a great player? They can play the qualifying tournament and have a much higher chance to have a competitive match instead of being trashed in the Main Draw by a far better player.