Who Takes Advantage of Wild Cards?

Yesterday, we saw that ATP tour-level wild cards are the privilege of just a small subset of top pros.  If you play for a Grand Slam-hosting country, or you are a major junior prospect, you’ll get plenty.  If you fit neither of those categories, you’re on your own.  Donald Young gets 27 wild cards while better players work for years to earn their way into as many as 27 ATP main draws.

This discrepancy raises plenty of questions, not least the issue of whether the wild card status quo is good for tennis.

The title of this post raises another: Who used those wild cards to rocket to the top?  Andy Roddick is one, having amassed a 20-9 record, including two titles and one Masters-level quarterfinal, from 11 wild cards spots in 2000 and 2001.  On the flip side is Nicolas Mahut, who received 9 tour-level wild cards before his 25th birthday, winning only one match–and that one by retirement.

When players do take advantage of their wild cards and string a few wins together, what are we to make of them?  Roddick was clearly on his way to the top.  After winning Atlanta and Houston in back-to-back weeks in 2001, he never needed a wild card again.  But other highly-touted Americans, such as Jesse Levine and Ryan Sweeting, never manage to get their ranking fully out of wild card territory.  They’ll both probably receive more, taking opportunities to win a tour-level match or two that gives their rankings a boost.

The ranking effect of a tour-level win or two compounds the effects that keep down players like Grega Zemlja.  First, someone like Levine or Frank Dancevic receives a substantial number of wild cards, consistent opportunities to play in a main draw that other, similarly-ranked players don’t get.  Then, unless they really aren’t that good, or they get a slew of unlucky draws, they win a match or two.  A mere appearance in a Grand Slam main draw is worth 10 ranking points; a single win gets you another 35.  In some challenger events, you need to reach the final to earn that many points.

More ranking points, of course, lead to a higher ranking.  A higher ranking leads to more direct entries into tournaments.  And then, somehow, you have Donald Young in the top 50.

Thus, “taking advantage” of wild cards has strong positive and negative connotations.  Guys like Roddick and Federer were ready to compete at the highest level before their rankings said they were, so they took advantage of their opportunities to the fullest.  But when a player gets 10 wild cards and wins four matches, he’s made the best of his situation in a manner that exploits the inequities of the ATP tour.

After the jump, find a table that shows everyone currently in the top 200 who received at least four tour-level wild cards before their 25th birthday.  (I’m using that age as a cutoff to avoid counting wild cards handed to players on the comeback trail or a retirement tour.)  It’s sorted by number of wild cards received pre-25.  For a sortable table, click here.

Rk    Player                 Cty  WCs  Matches   W   L  W/WC  
175   Donald Young           USA   27       37  10  27  0.37  
26    Mardy Fish             USA   24       44  21  23  0.88  
61    Ryan Harrison          USA   21       35  14  21  0.67  
23    Sam Querrey            USA   20       40  20  20  1.00  
69    Jesse Levine           USA   17       21   4  17  0.24  
11    John Isner             USA   16       35  19  16  1.19  
544   Chris Guccione         AUS   16       29  13  16  0.81  
48    Bernard Tomic          AUS   15       23   8  15  0.53  
112   James Blake            USA   15       19   4  15  0.27  
13    Richard Gasquet        FRA   14       20   6  14  0.43  
332   Alex Bogdanovic        GBR   14       18   4  14  0.29  
127   Michael Llodra         FRA   13       23  11  12  0.85  
800   Prakash Amritraj       IND   13       20   7  13  0.54  
20    Tommy Haas             GER   12       28  16  12  1.33  
68    Gael Monfils           FRA   12       27  15  12  1.25  
146   Ryan Sweeting          USA   12       19   8  11  0.67  
29    Andy Roddick           USA   11       29  20   9  1.82  
1     Roger Federer          SUI   11       22  11  11  1.00  
250   James Ward             GBR   11       18   7  11  0.64  
101   Paul Henri Mathieu     FRA   11       15   4  11  0.36  
57    Brian Baker            USA   11       14   3  11  0.27  
3     Andy Murray            GBR   10       25  15  10  1.50  
91    Lleyton Hewitt         AUS   10       23  14   9  1.40  
289   Robby Ginepri          USA   10       23  13  10  1.30  
279   Andreas Beck           GER   10       19   9  10  0.90  
164   Jack Sock              USA   10       16   6  10  0.60  
62    Grigor Dimitrov        BUL   10       14   4  10  0.40  
139   Wayne Odesnik          USA   10       13   3  10  0.30  
1566  Cecil Mamiit           PHI   10       11   1  10  0.10  
49    Robin Haase            NED    9       16   7   9  0.78  
16    Kei Nishikori          JPN    9       15   6   9  0.67  
136   Frank Dancevic         CAN    9       15   6   9  0.67  
31    Marcos Baghdatis       CYP    9       13   4   9  0.44  
130   Thiemo De Bakker       NED    9       13   4   9  0.44  
85    Bjorn Phau             GER    9       11   2   9  0.22  
96    Alex Bogomolov Jr      USA    9       11   2   9  0.22  
71    Nicolas Mahut          FRA    9       10   1   9  0.11  
93    Rajeev Ram             USA    8       13   5   8  0.63  
8     Juan Martin Del Potro  ARG    7       17  10   7  1.43  
107   Guillaume Rufin        FRA    7       14   7   7  1.00  
100   Daniel Brands          GER    7       13   6   7  0.86  
14    Marin Cilic            CRO    7       12   5   7  0.71  
140   Mischa Zverev          GER    7       12   5   7  0.71  
162   Denis Kudla            USA    7       11   4   7  0.57  
73    Andrey Kuznetsov       RUS    7       10   3   7  0.43  
152   Bobby Reynolds         USA    7       10   3   7  0.43  
165   Steve Johnson          USA    7       10   3   7  0.43  
143   Antonio Veic           CRO    7        9   2   7  0.29  
174   Javier Marti           ESP    7        9   2   7  0.29  
160   Adrian Mannarino       FRA    7        8   1   7  0.14  
58    Xavier Malisse         BEL    6       14   8   6  1.33  
33    Jeremy Chardy          FRA    6       12   6   6  1.00  
38    Jurgen Melzer          AUT    6       12   6   6  1.00  
17    Stanislas Wawrinka     SUI    6        9   3   6  0.50  
60    Tatsuma Ito            JPN    6        9   3   6  0.50  
18    Philipp Kohlschreiber  GER    6        8   2   6  0.33  
46    Benoit Paire           FRA    6        8   2   6  0.33  
167   Peter Polansky         CAN    6        8   2   6  0.33  
151   Ernests Gulbis         LAT    5       12   7   5  1.40  
22    Andreas Seppi          ITA    5       10   5   5  1.00  
171   Marius Copil           ROU    5        9   4   5  0.80  
44    Fabio Fognini          ITA    5        8   3   5  0.60  
154   Ze Zhang               CHN    5        8   3   5  0.60  
35    Feliciano Lopez        ESP    5        7   2   5  0.40  
156   Igor Kunitsyn          RUS    5        7   2   5  0.40  
25    Marcel Granollers      ESP    5        6   1   5  0.20  
37    Julien Benneteau       FRA    5        5   0   5  0.00  
128   Evgeny Donskoy         RUS    5        5   0   5  0.00  
45    David Goffin           BEL    4        9   5   4  1.25  
124   Josselin Ouanna        FRA    4        9   5   4  1.25  
7     Jo Wilfried Tsonga     FRA    4        8   4   4  1.00  
105   Igor Andreev           RUS    4        8   4   4  1.00  
27    Mikhail Youzhny        RUS    4        7   3   4  0.75  
74    Igor Sijsling          NED    4        7   3   4  0.75  
90    Filippo Volandri       ITA    4        7   3   4  0.75  
177   Teymuraz Gabashvili    RUS    4        6   2   4  0.50  
181   Yuki Bhambri           IND    4        6   2   4  0.50  
82    Simone Bolelli         ITA    4        5   1   4  0.25  
115   Matthew Ebden          AUS    4        5   1   4  0.25  
97    Philipp Petzschner     GER    4        4   0   4  0.00  
186   Di Wu                  CHN    4        4   0   4  0.00
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2 Comments

Filed under Wild cards

2 responses to “Who Takes Advantage of Wild Cards?

  1. steve courtney

    excellent blog, whats really stagering is the number of WC’s given to the US guys that are not even 21 yet, or have just played less than a year on the circuit. Reach out to Todd Martin, he has some very interesting comments on the subject.

  2. rick devereux

    Makes US men’s progress seem even worse.
    Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

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