A Golden Wild Card: The Case for Granting Players a Wild Card Entry to Any Tournament of Their Choice Prior to Retirement

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Thomaz Bellucci, the Brazilian tennis player, had a memorable last tournament thanks to a wild card entry granted to him. He was given a wild card entry to the 2023 Rio Open, a tournament held in his home country, giving him the opportunity to bid farewell to his fans in Brazil. Although Bellucci was totally outplayed by Sebastian Baez, his performance was warmly received by the local crowd, who appreciated his years of dedication to the sport and his contribution to Brazilian tennis. This was a really nice touch by the tournament organizers and a fitting way for one of the countries brightest tennis exports to draw a close on an excellent playing career.

Over the past few years, the tennis world has bid farewell to some of its greatest players, including the likes of Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Juan Martin sel Potro, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. These stars were able to play their final matches at tournaments of their choice thanks to wild card entries, which was a fitting tribute to their contributions to the sport. However, not all top players who have retired in recent years have been given this opportunity, and it’s a shame that they were not able to end their careers on a much greater stage.

Below is a list of five players who had outstanding careers but unfortunately ended them in less-than-ideal circumstances:

1. Andreas Seppi – Final match, 2022 Ortisi Challenger, Round 1, lost to Yannick Hanfmann 7-5 3-6 4-6

Perhaps the greatest argument for a “golden wild card” comes from the story of Andreas Seppi. He reached a career-high singles ranking of world No. 18 in 2013, and during his career, he won three ATP singles titles and one doubles title and also famously beat Roger Federer in the 2015 Australian Open. Controversy arose around his retirement in early 2022, when he was denied wild card entries into two major Italian ATP events, the Italian Open and the Emilia-Romagna Open. Seppi, who had announced his retirement before the tournaments, had requested wild card entries to participate in his final events.

However, the tournament organizers denied his requests, citing their policy of reserving wild card entries for younger players who were still developing their careers. Seppi’s last matches ultimately took place in smaller Challenger Tour events. The controversy sparked debate around the issue of wild card entries and their distribution, particularly when it comes to veteran players who have dedicated their careers to the sport.

2. Paolo Lorenzi – Final match, 2021 US Open Qualifying, Round 2, lost to Maxime Janvier 4-6 3-6

Paolo Lorenzi had a remarkable tennis career that lasted more than two decades. He achieved a personal best ranking of world No. 33 in singles in 2017 and amassed a total of four ATP singles titles and 23 doubles titles throughout his career. Lorenzi’s final tournament was somewhat anticlimactic, as he played in the US Open qualifiers in front of a sparse crowd instead of at a premium Italian ATP event in front of his home fans. Nevertheless, Lorenzi’s impact on Italian tennis will not be forgotten, and his contributions to the sport will inspire future generations of players.

3. Philipp Kohlschreiber – Final match, 2022 Wimbledon Qualifying, Round 2, lost to Mikhail Kukushkin 7-6 3-6 4-6

Although Philipp Kohlschreiber was granted a wild card entry into the ATP Munich tournament just a few weeks before his final match, he ultimately lost to his compatriot Daniel Altmaier in three sets. While Kohlschreiber did have the opportunity to compete in a high-profile tournament for his last match, it seems somewhat unfortunate that a player of his caliber ended his career in the Wimbledon qualifiers. It is certainly a bittersweet ending for a player who has achieved so much in the sport. He likely fancied his chances of going out on a high by qualifying for the one of the sports biggest tournaments but unfortunately came up short. He achieved a career-high singles ranking of world No. 16 in 2012 and won a total of eight ATP singles titles and seven doubles titles.

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4. Julien Benneteau – Final match, 2018, Brest Challenger, Quarter Final, lost to Stefano Travaglia 6-7 3-6

Despite owning the record of 0-10 in ATP finals, Julien Benneteau had a successful career in both singles and doubles. He achieved a career-high singles ranking of world No. 25 in 2014 and won 12 doubles titles, including the 2014 French Open with Edouard Roger-Vasselin. His final singles match was played at the 2018 Brest Challenger, just a few weeks before the Paris Masters where he had an emotional run to the semifinals one year prior. Despite being given a wild card into the doubles event with Lucas Pouille, it would have been fitting for him to have one last chance at the singles event, especially after his impressive run in 2017 where he defeated notable players like Shapovalov, Tsonga, Goffin, and Cilic. (the latter being a must watch, major goosebumps on match point). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-A39WdSrpU

5. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez – Final match, 2021, Milan Challenger, 1st round, lost to Ulises Blanch 6-3 3-6 2-6

Despite having a successful career that included five singles titles and a peak ranking of 23, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez ended his tennis journey in an underwhelming setting, losing to Ulises Blanch in a Milan challenger tournament. Given the abundance of ATP-level tournaments held in Spain throughout the year, it seems unfortunate that Garcia-Lopez was unable to finish his career on a bigger stage, in front of a larger audience.

Now let’s compare the final matches of some mega stars who retired in the past few years which they gained via a wild card.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – Final match, 2022, French Open, 1st round, lost to Casper Ruud

Serena Williams – Final match, 2022, US Open, 2nd round, lost to Ajla Tomljanovic

David Ferrer – Final match, 2019, Madrid Masters, 2nd round, lost to Alexander Zverev

Gilles Simon – Final match, 2022, Paris Masters 3rd round, lost to Felix Auger-Allisime

Sam Querrey – Final match, 2022, US Open, 1st round, lost to Ilya Ivashka

Players may not always have the chance to retire at their preferred tournament due to scheduling conflicts, as seen with Kohlschreiber’s final match in Munich. However, if a “golden wild card” was available, players like Kohlschreiber could have opted for a grander stage, rather than ending their careers at a qualifying event, even if it was a Grand Slam. The controversy surrounding Andreas Seppi’s lack of wild card entry highlights the divide in opinion regarding deserving players’ final matches. While top players like Serena Williams and Jo Wilfried Tsonga are major draws, lesser-known players with impressive careers, such as those discussed above, would also draw crowds at home tournaments and deserve to go out in style in front of a large audience.

What are your thoughts on the possibility of a “golden wild card”? Do you believe that such wild cards should be given to deserving veteran players or should they be reserved solely for rising stars? Do you recall any retired players ending their careers in less than ideal circumstances? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Main Photo Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports