Why Del Potro's U.S Open wildcard was justified

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn

Let’s start off with a bit of tennis trivia, shall we? Tim Smyczek, Noah Rubin, Wayne Odesnik, Ryan Harrison, Marcus Giron, Jared Donaldson, Bjorn Fratangelo, Austin Krajicek, Frances Tiafoe and Ryan Shane: Anything about these tennis players worth knowing?

Perhaps not, but a simple records check will tell you what all of them have in common. They are American tennis players who received wildcard entries to the 2014 and 2015 US Open main draw. In both of those years, Juan Martin Del Potro was missing, nursing a troublesome left wrist that, for the second time in his career, forced him out of full seasons on the ATP Tour. Juan Martin Del Potro. Heard of him, right?

Well, after playing effectively no competitive tennis for two-and-a-half years, Del Potro made the main draw at Wimbledon earlier this year, and reached the third round, knocking out World No. 3 and two-time Grand Slam champion Stanislas Wawrinka along the way. At the Olympics, he defeated Novak Djokovic in straight sets in the first round, Rafael Nadal in the semis and pushed Andy Murray to four sets in arguably the match of the season before having to settle for silver in Rio.

The United States Tennis Association (USTA) rather liked what they saw, and handed Del Potro, the 2009 champion at Flushing Meadows, one of their eight wildcards. So far, so routine.

Not as far as top-ranked male American player Steve Johnson was concerned, though. The 19th seed described Del Potro as “a phenomenal guy, a phenomenal tennis player”, but was unhappy at the wildcard not instead being awarded to yet another American, half a dozen of whom are still beneficiaries this year. Michael Mmoh, Mackenzie McDonald, Ernesto Escobedo… you get the point. And then Johnson went on to the part of his argument he presumably thought was the clincher. “What if he plays me first round? What if he wins? Or he plays Sam [Querrey] – anybody – and he beats an American?”

The idea of wildcards in tennis is an inherently unsettling concept, and one that rarely seems to be convincingly justified. It is an excuse for elitism and the subversion of meritocracy, based on the idea that some players, especially if they’re from Australia, France, the United Kingdom or the United States (the countries that host the Grand Slams), deserve a better chance than others.

DEL POTRO AT GRAND SLAMS

  • Australian Open: QF (2012)
  • French Open: SF (2009)
  • Wimbledon: SF (2013)
  • US Open: Won (2009)

So at the Grand Slams, eight players find themselves queue-jumped by players supposedly more important because they’re younger, more talented, or from the host country. This especially rankles because the players that miss out are the sort whose careers live and die by their Grand Slam appearances, both financially and in terms of ranking points. If that teenager from Melbourne, Marseille, Manchester or Miami is really all that gifted, he’ll surely let his ranking points do the talking before long.

The only saving grace for wildcards comes in circumstances where people like Del Potro end up needing one. This is a player clearly unsuited to his official ranking of 141, where he finds himself through sheer hard luck. Providing wildcards to players who enhance the appeal of the tournament, or improve the quality of its field, is a perfectly legitimate way to use them, and can anyone – Steve Johnson included – argue that the men’s draw is better off without the 2009 champion in it?

Johnson’s fears turned out to be deliciously prescient, because, not long after his remarks, the draw that came out pitted the American against the Argentine in the second round. As the two men were introduced to the Arthur Ashe crowd under the lights, it became obvious how much Johnson’s concerns that Del Potro’s wildcard ‘might make a lot of American fans upset’ were misplaced. While the American received a respectful ovation upon walking in, the crowd went wild, New York style, as Del Potro set foot on the court that has seen his greatest success. He hadn’t hit a shot yet, but the memories of that magical night in 2009 that saw him tame the wizardry of a then-unbeatable Federer had already been conjured up.

He didn’t need to be as good as that on Thursday night, and he wasn’t. But it was still good enough to comfortably see off the Californian and march on to the third round. As he walked off the court, the fans mobbed him, eager to get their autographs and selfies. Nobody appeared too upset, who could begrudge this gentle giant his run of good form, or argue he hadn’t earned his place?

Feliz de volver a mi lugar @usopen // Happy to return to my place. 😀😀😀

A photo posted by Juan Martin del Potro (@delpotrojuan) on

He vindicated the USTA’s decision to award him the wildcard, because his capability to do so is exactly why he was handed it in the first place. He has already demonstrated how misleading his ranking is at present, and how out of place he would have looked playing three rounds of qualifying. More out of place than Dennis Novikov or Bjorn Fratangelo, players whom Steve Johnson would presumably rather the wildcard went to.

Getting back to Johnson, he horribly misjudged the public perception on Del Potro’s presence in the main draw, instead echoing a viewpoint that has perniciously come to be accepted without needing to be argued for in tennis circles. The American was absolutely right to be concerned about how wildcards are awarded at the Grand Slams, but the man he lost to under the bright lights of New York certainly isn’t part of the problem.

Most popular

US Open Day four: Five predictions & matches to watch

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
Share your predictions below.

Which matches are you most looking forward to seeing on day four and who do you think will progress to the third round from our picks?

Have your say and share with us your predictions by commenting below, using #360fans on Twitter or getting in touch via Facebook.

ANDY MURRAY (GBR) vs MARCEL GRANOLLERS (ESP)

MURRAY vs GRANOLLERS

  • 2 - WORLD RANKING - 45
  • 6 - HEAD TO HEAD - 1
  • 39 - CAREER TITLES - 4
  • 51-7 - 2016 WIN-LOSS - 17-20

Murray and Granollers grew up together in the junior ranks but on Tour, the Scot is in a class apart.

The only time Granollers registered a win over Murray was when his opponent pulled out in Rome with a bad back.

No shock expected.

SPORT360 VERDICT: Murray in straight sets.

SERENA WILLIAMS (USA) vs VANIA KING (USA)

There were concerns about Serena’s shoulder but she put that to rest with a straight sets win over Ekaterina Makarova.

Her opponent King hasn’t made the third round of a Grand Slam since 2012 and that should stay unchanged.

SPORT360 VERDICT: Serena in straight sets.

STANISLAS WAWRINKA (SUI) vs ALESSANDRO GIANNESSI (ITA)

WAWRINKA (SUI) vs GIANNESSI (ITA)

  • 3 - WORLD RANKING - 243
  • 0 - HEAD TO HEAD - 0
  • 14 - CAREER TITLES - 0
  • 32-12 2016 WIN-LOSS - 1-0

Wawrinka enjoys playing in New York, having reached the quarter-finals or better in his past three appearances.

He was clinical in his win over Fernando Verdasco and should not find it too difficult against the Italian qualifier.

SPORT360 VERDICT: Wawrinka in straight sets.

VENUS WILLIAMS (USA) vs JULIA GÖRGES (GER)

Venus was not at her best against Kateryna Kozlova, as she was taken to three sets following a spate of unforced errors.

She will have to be at her best against Julia, who has a point to prove after falling out of the top 50.

SPORT360 VERDICT: Venus in three.

JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO (ARG) vs STEVE JOHNSON (USA)

DEL POTRO (ARG) vs JOHNSON (USA)

  • 142 - WORLD RANKING - 22
  • 0 - HEAD TO HEAD - 0
  • 18 - CAREER TITLES - 1
  • 19-9 2016 WIN-LOSS 28-22

Del Potro will be hoping his dream run, as far as fitness is concerned, continues as he takes on American Johnson.

Del Potro didn’t show any fitness issues in his win over Diego Schwartzman and should take this one..

SPORT360 VERDICT: Del Potro in five.

Most popular

Related Sections

US Open: Day three talking points

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
Djokovic had a tennis-free day at Flushing Meadows.

NOVAK DJOKOVIC THROUGH WITHOUT HITTING A BALL

Novak Djokovic made the last 32 of a major for the 33rd successive time without hitting a ball Wednesday while former world number one Caroline Wozniacki stopped the rot eating away at her career.

Top see Djokovic was handed a walkover when Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic withdrew from their second round encounter suffering an inflammation of the left forearm.

Vesely’s misfortune was a welcome boost for top seed Djokovic who had required treatment on his upper right arm in his laboured first round win over Jerzy Janowicz on Monday.

Left-hander Vesely had defeated the Serb at the Monte Carlo Masters in April.

Djokovic will face either Guido Pella of Argentina or Mikhail Youzhny of Russia on Friday for a place in the last 16.

@djokernole being interviewed after winning his first round @usopen

A video posted by Boris Becker (@borisbeckerofficial) on

CAROLINE WOZNIACKI CAUSES UPSET

Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova is getting a handle on New York City, now if she could just get to grips with her game.

The Czech star, who has endured a litany of illnesses and injuries this season, admits she never knows what to expect when she steps on the court these days.

“Every match it’s difficult and really tough to see what I’m going to be,” said Kvitova, who is keeping expectations low at the US Open despite reaching the third round with two straight-sets victories.

“If I can make the second week, I would be very happy.”

KVITOVA KEEPING HER GAME UNDER WRAPS

Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova is getting a handle on New York City, now if she could just get to grips with her game.

The Czech star, who has endured a litany of illnesses and injuries this season, admits she never knows what to expect when she steps on the court these days.

“Every match it’s difficult and really tough to see what I’m going to be,” said Kvitova, who is keeping expectations low at the US Open despite reaching the third round with a 7-6(2) 6-3 win over Turkey’s Cagla Buyukakcay on Wednesday.

“If I can make the second week, I would be very happy.”

Kvitova is without a title since winning at New Haven in August of 2015, a victory that was followed by a quarter-final appearance in the US Open.

But since finishing last year at sixth in the world, she has fallen to 16th and suffered a second-round exit on her beloved grass at Wimbledon.

What was your highlight of the day? Get in touch on social media, use #360fans on Twitter and Facebook.

Most popular