Around a week ago, I wrote an article praising Indian Wells for their wild card selections, which included Laslo Djere, Felix Auger-Aliassime, and Bianca Andreescu. All three of the players previously mentioned are talented players who have had recent good results and deserved a shot at the main draw of a Masters 1000/Premier Mandatory event. All three players also at least made the third round of the tournament, with Andreescu currently in the Women’s final!
However, it seems with the entry list for the Masters 1000/Premier Mandatory event in Miami, that the wild card selections have gone terribly wrong. The Miami Open men’s wild cards include Indian Wells quarterfinalist Miomir Kecmanovic and David Ferrer. Here is a full list of the wild cards. And while it does seem a bit odd that someone such as Nicola Kuhn got a wild card, he almost assuredly is a part of IMG, which owns the tournament.
I don’t have a huge problem with IMG playing a role in wild cards. Yes, it does seem a little slimy that the sports agency you belong to can influence whether or not you get accepted into a huge event, such as the Miami Open. But, even someone like Nicola Kuhn has won a decent number of matches this year on the Challenger level, and is still around No. 250 in the world in the live rankings. So, while a selection like that doesn’t sit great with me, IMG typically provides decent wildcards into the tournament.
The Osaka problem
Where I have a problem is with the wildcard to Mari Osaka, sister to tennis No. 1 and two-time Slam champion Naomi Osaka. Now, I want to start by saying I have nothing against Mari Osaka personally. She could very well be an amazing person. However, her results should have her nowhere near a Premier Mandatory tournament, which–like a Masters 1000 for the men–is essentially just a step down from a Grand Slam.
Mari Osaka’s current live ranking is No. 338 in the world. Her career high is only No. 280 in the world. Osaka has played two events this year, losing 6-0 6-0 in the first round of the Newport Challenger this year and losing in straight sets in qualifying for ITF Midland. And yet, she is a wild card into this big event.
Whether you want to outright say it or not, we all know what this is: nepotism at its finest. This wild card is an embarrassment. I understand that we should not be mad at Osaka for accepting it, but hopefully even she realizes how ridiculous this is. She just lost easily in qualifying for an ITF event. When she played a Challenger event earlier this year, she couldn’t win a game! This isn’t hard, everyone. Someone like this shouldn’t be near the qualifying draw, let alone the main draw of an event of this magnitude.
Last week, I talked about how wild cards could still be given out, just in a more limited capacity. That way, one could still give wild cards to rising stars such as Kecmanovic and Caty McNally, but the tournament wouldn’t feel so free as to just throw a wild card away to a player because that player’s sister is successful. When you take the names out of it, do you see how ridiculous this situation sounds?
If the tournament felt the need to use a wild card, why not give a wildcard to the young Pole Iga Swiatek, who is breaking through to the WTA Tour, despite only being 17 years old? And if you want to give it to an American? No problem. How about giving a wild card to Christina McHale, who underwent a resurgence in Indian Wells? Or maybe even Saschia Vickery, a local player who was unfairly snubbed last year? And if the tournament really thinks that Osaka should get a wildcard spot, then honestly, perhaps that’s a sign that we have way too many wildcards to give out, and that spots like that should go to a qualifier.
I get it. Tournaments can give wild cards away to whoever they want to. And that is true, but it doesn’t make it right. While Indian Wells last week showed the importance of keeping some form of the wild card system around, Miami has shown that a major overhaul is still needed.
When deserving women are passed over in place of the sister of the world number one, for a singles spot at a highly coveted tournament, then there is something wrong with the system.
Because, quite frankly, Mari Osaka’s wild card is an embarrassment.
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