MATCH POINT: Wildcard stitch ups are par for the course… here’s how the system is abused

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Those switching their attention to the Open golf next week may get to hear the name of Matthew Jordan, one of the 156 players who will tee off at Royal Liverpool.

After more discussions about the merits of wildcards at Wimbledon, he is an interesting comparison of how they do things in the partially equivalent event of another sport.

Jordan plays on the European Tour and has had a ranking in the top 200 before now, and this season he has had four top twenty finishes. He grew up playing at Hoylake, is well-known in the area and holds the course record. He knows every blade of grass on the links and ought to go well.

He would have had a cast-iron case for a wildcard if such a thing existed for the Open, but they do not. Failing to get direct entry, he had to go through two extremely competitive qualifying rounds at West Lancs and, happily, was one of the tiny few who just made it into the main field.

Given his history, it would have been something of a travesty if he did not feature next week, so it is worth bearing that in mind when considering the rights and wrongs of privileged entries. They can enhance a tournament in commercial terms, add appeal in the local market and give a deserving individual a hand up.

Matthew Jordan's case suggests that some events in golf don't have enough wildcards

Matthew Jordan’s case suggests that some events in golf don’t have enough wildcards

It is, however, a question of degree, and while the restrictions on the Open (which has a very complex entry system) look too strict, it can equally be argued that there are too many wildcards in tennis.

Their distribution is always a vexed issue, especially so at the Grand Slams because they are worth so much (£55,000 minimum in singles this fortnight). At Wimbledon the situation is not helped by their award being in something of a grey area. The All England Club has the final say, but there are heavy representations from the LTA.

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British players have received 41 wildcards for main draw singles across recent grass court events, and it can be argued that a lot of them were justified. The clear danger – and it probably applies to a few players – is that sub-consciously they go through the year knowing that they will cash in every summer this way, and it shaves a mental edge off them.

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The most commonly cited example of wildcard excess is ex-British player Alex Bogdanovic, who was given eight for Wimbledon’s main draw and never won a match (fun fact: he faced both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in first rounds). It might surprise some people to know that the all-time king of wildcards is Andy Murray, who has had 57 over his career.

That number has provoked slight controversy, but he has had good reason because of his hip injuries, and what he has given back to the game can hardly be questioned.

Alex Bogdanovic was given eight wildcards at Wimbledon but he never won a match

Alex Bogdanovic was given eight wildcards at Wimbledon but he never won a match

Other areas of the wildcard business deserve more scrutiny. One is the indefensible stitch-up between Grand Slam nations France, America and Australia of giving a reciprocal wildcard to each other’s players, something that Wimbledon and the LTA have done well to stay out of. Surely a better use would be to give one to an under-represented continent like Africa, for instance. There is parallel for this in what the International Tennis Federation does at the Olympics.

Then there are big management groups such as IMG, who are allowed to be tournament owners as well as player agents. It is an under-reported abuse of the system that they hand so many of them out to their own clients for the events they own, such as Miami and Madrid. The promise of these wildcards is one tool they use when courting young players to sign up with them.

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There is a happy medium when it comes to these type of entries – tennis has too many, while the case of Matthew Jordan suggests that some events in golf have too few.

Why teen talent Mirra Andreeva needs handling with care 

One thing looks reasonably sure about this year’s Wimbledon is that, with the majority of matches now played, it will turn out to be the best behaved Championships of recent times.

Last year a total of 27 code violations were handed out – two thirds of them to men – but at the time of writing there have been only eight. Britain’s Dan Evans leads the way among the men by being docked $4,000 for audible obscenities in his first round defeat.

Most remarkable of all is that, up to the second Tuesday, not a single fine had been announced for a women’s competitor.

Mirra Andreeva is a future champion in the making but she needs to be managed carefully

Mirra Andreeva is a future champion in the making but she needs to be managed carefully

However, that changed when the punishment ($8,000) was announced for 16 year-old Mirra Andreeva as result of the point penalty she suffered during her fourth round defeat to Madison Keys. Given that she could have damaged the court with her racket, she was always likely to supersede the GB male number two.

In terms of ability there is no question that the Russian teenager is a future champion in the making but – as we have seen many times before in this sport – there will need to be careful managing of her career, and the odd warning light is already flashing.

Although she felt aggrieved, storming off court without shaking the umpires’ hand on Monday was one of them. Another is her Diva-like insistence of already taking around two hours before fulfilling her post-match media commitments, far more than should be allowed. The wisdom of having Netflix documentary cameras following her about at this age – presumably to enhance her marketability in the US – also looks questionable. A big talent, handle with care.

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Katie Boulter may be wise to steer clear of oil row

After her court was invaded by an eco-protester Katie Boulter was inevitably asked what she thought of the cause, and it appeared that forewarned was forearmed.

‘I think for me as a player, my job is to try and play tennis, and in a way put on a show. I’m going to stick to that,’ responded the British number one.

That kind of reply naturally tends to elicit disappointment among reporters, but then getting into complex political questions is not easy in press conferences. They are strictly time-limited, individual writers have different angles they want to pursue, and in this environment it is difficult to do anything other than skim the surface.

Katie Boulter was probably correct to avoid getting involved in the Just Stop Oil debate

Katie Boulter was probably correct to avoid getting involved in the Just Stop Oil debate

Ideally you would wish to get into more thorny issues in a one-on-one interview, when it is possible to interrogate the subject’s opinion in more depth.

Soundbites are simple (see Twitter) and do not reveal much. In the build-up to the British Grand Prix Lewis Hamilton commented on oil protesters that ‘We believe in what people are fighting for.’ Really? An interesting view from someone who earns a living from a globetrotting, gas-guzzling sport.

Andy Murray has said he sympathises with the protesters’ views, but not necessarily with their way of expressing discontent. It would be fascinating to develop the theme, and discover how, for example, he views the potential impact their argument would have on tens of thousands of jobs in Scotland.

Murray, in fairness, has an admirable hinterland and rarely shies away from this kind of thing. There remains, however, something to be said for the Boulter way of approaching topics which will always demand deeper exploration.

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