The approach to wildcards for the 2021 Australian Open will be different this year. There will be no main draw wildcards offered to the USTA or the FFT. Therefore, there are more opportunities for Australians just outside the main draw cut-off to have a crack at the first major tournament of the season. 2021 is the year out of all years, one would want to receive a wildcard into the Australian Open. A Wildcard is the Holy Grail of the summer for players not ranked high enough for direct entry into the tournament.
With Aussie players needing to fly out of Australia and into Doha, Qatar and Dubai, United Arab Emirates this year, the process to qualify for the Australian Open is already awfully complex and challenging, let alone the fact that players will then have to quarantine when they arrive back home.
Thus the following players have struck gold.
Christopher O’Connell (NSW, AUSTRALIA, World No 120)
Ranked just outside the top 100 in the world, O’Connell had a massive 2019 winning 82 matches on the ITF and Challenger tour to rise up the ranks in a big way. As a reward O’Connell received a wildcard into last year’s Australian Open, where he was dealt a tough draw facing Russian young gun and 17 seed at the time, Andrey Rublev.
He reached the round of 64 at last year’s US Open. He also reached the semi-finals of an ATP Challenger event in Biella, Italy. He failed to qualify for the French Open last year, but a strong summer of tennis could change that this year.
O’Connell is on the borderline of becoming an automatic qualifier for Grand Slams and a good showing at the AO could help him finally get there.
Hopefully the draw is a little kinder to O’Connell this year as he looks to enter the top 100 for the first time in his career.
Daria Gavrilova (VIC, AUSTRALIA, World No 450)
An injury ravelled past couple of seasons have been painful to watch for the former world number 20. Her current ranking of 445 is no representation of how good Gavrilova is on the court. She has the potential to upset a few seeds on her way to a potential second or third round at this year’s Australian Open.
After a horror run with injury, Dasha made her return at the French Open last year via her protected ranking, ousting the 24th seed Dayana Yastremska in the first round.
Her preparation will be crucial at one of the WTA tournaments the week before the Open, as she was unable to have a great run of matches towards the back end of 2020, as well as the shorter season. Dasha loves playing in Australia and we know she will give it everything she’s got.
Marc Polmans (VIC, AUSTRALIA, World No 124)
The iconic legionnaire cap will make a return at the 2021 Australian Open. Like O’Connell, Polmans will look to improve on his 2020 campaign where he reached the 2nd round. The 23-year-old is hopefully poised to crack the top 100 this year and a home summer of tennis is the perfect place to start the charge into 2021. He has been Australia’s fringe player for a couple of years now – and by that we mean that he is ever so close to becoming an automatic Grand Slam main draw entrant.
Many people in and around Tennis Australia believed that 2020 would be the year that Polmans really burst onto the ATP scene. With much less interruption, the breakout year will be this year – our bet is that this will be the last wildcard Polmans needs for the Australian Open for a while.
The Victorian began to gain some more entries into qualifying for 250 tournaments in 2020, valuable experience as a young player looking to match it with the world’s top 100.
Astra Sharma (WA, AUSTRALIA, World No 129)
Sharma’s never give up attitude and fight on the court has helped her rise up the ranks. A very well-earned wildcard for the 25-year-old, who has continued to get better as the years have gone on.
Sharma knows all about success at Melbourne Park, making it to the final of the mixed doubles at the 2019 Australian Open. She made the 2nd round in singles in 2019. She has scratched the surface of the top 100 so far in her career (high of World No 85) but hasn’t yet fully dived headfirst in. If Sharma draws a seed at this year’s event, she will likely be put on a main arena. A great chance for the all Australian crowd to get behind her, hoping this wildcard opportunity launches her to becoming a solidified top 100 player.
Thanasi Kokkinakis (SA, AUSTRALIA, World No 260)
Kokkinakis has had his fair share of injuries over the last few seasons. Hopefully a turn for the better in 2021 for Kokkinakis to show off his skill on the court. No doubt he has the skill to win, but does his body? If it can, the former world number 69 can definitely go better than his 2015 performance reaching the second round at Melbourne Park.
The now 24-year-old first reached the ATP top 100 at aged 19 and it was only a few years ago that he beat Roger Federer in Miami. Once compared to his friend Kyrgois, Kokkinakis knows if he can get his body right, he is up there with the world’s best. Australians across the country will be cheering on the World No. 260 this summer.
He thrives in the Melbourne conditions with the crowd behind him. Fingers crossed we can see him on John Cain Arena on the same day as Kyrgios.
Maddison Inglis (WA, AUSTRALIA, World No 130)
22-year-old Inglis first competed in the main draw of the Australian Open in 2016. Inglis has struggled to gain momentum in Grand Slams but has steadily increased her WTA ranking thanks to numerous solid showings on the ITF circuit. 2021 looks to be the year that Inglis first advances through to the round of 64 at a major.
Her Grand Slam runs last year at the French and US Open were tough drawing seeds in both her first-round matches.
An unseeded opponent for Inglis in her main draw comeback would be the perfect jump start for 2021.
Alex Bolt (SA, AUSTRALIA, World No 172)
Summer in Melbourne is Alex Bolt’s favourite time of year. It is safe to say the 26-year-old plays some of his best tennis at Melbourne Park and makes the most of his wildcard opportunities; reaching the third round at the 2019 Australian Open and he won the heart of all Aussies last summer by pushing eventual finalist, Dominic Thiem, to five sets in the 2nd round
Bolt did struggle in Europe last year after his great start to the season. A wildcard for Bolt was a no-brainer for Tennis Australia considering the great tennis he produced last summer. Bolt will look to recapture some of last summer’s magic and carry it through in 2021.
The South Australian has the ability to match the top 50 players in the world on his day. His strong, consistent hitting makes him a difficult match up on home soil.
Lizette Cabrera (QLD, AUSTRALIA, World No 140)
The 23-year-old Queenslander will be entering her 4th Australian Open draw with the goal of getting past the first round for the first time at the event.
Cabrera has told the media she believes she is in the peak of her career and is now ready to make an impact at the Australian Open.
Her chance to sharpen her skills in lockdown is what she needed for her development which Cabrera recognises.
She has fallen just short on all occasions losing very close matches. She is a terrific mover on court and chases down every ball, giving her a fighting chance to reach the second round.
Aleksandar Vukic (NSW, AUSTRALIA, World No 195)
A name that isn’t heard a lot, Vukic has had a very successful under-18 career and is starting his journey on the pro tour. Sitting inside the top 200 he was ever so close to reaching the main draw of the Australan Open last summer falling just short in the final round of qualifying.
In September of last year, Vukic qualified for the French Open, marking his first ATP main draw appearance. With career price money totalling $214,416, even being able to compete in the main draw of this year’s Australian Open will help set Vukic up for a strong year.
This will be the 24-year-old’s first AO main draw appearance.
Arina Rodionova (VIC, AUSTRALIA, World No 169)
A tour veteran, the 31 year old has been around the circuit for 10 years now, first competing in the main draw of the Australian Open in 2011. Rodionova has been the recipient of a wildcard berth at the Australian Open on multiple occasions. Last year was one of those years.
The 31-year-old had her best result at the Australian Open, reaching the second round. She was defeated by 9th seed Kiki Bertens in a close encounter, showing she does have the potential to defeat a high seed. She made the quarter finals in the Australian Open doubles in 2016, but has only had modest singles success in her career so far. Maybe the window still open to crack the top 100 in singles?
Andy Murray (GREAT BRITAIN, World No 123)
Just when we thought Melbourne would not see Andy Murray play at Melbourne Park again, the five time finalist has accepted his Wildcard for the 2021 event. He is dearly beloved by Craig Tiley and his team at the Australian Open and would have been a unanimous selection for a wildcard.
We briefly saw Murray’s return in late 2020 with appearances at the French and US Open. Although not the result that you usually pair with Andy Murray, it is safe to say he will not go down without a fight and maybe take out a seed or two out along the way. He is tied for 5th most Australian Open wins in the open era. No one knows how much tennis Murray has left in him, so we should all appreciate it while we can.
Destanee Aiava (VIC, AUSTRALIA, World No 244)
A junior success, Aiava is a big hitter who has some experience at main draw level. In 2017 she was first born player in the 21stcentury to win a WTA match as well as compete in a main draw match at a Grand Slam. The 20-year-old has already competed in 3 main draws at the Australian Open.
She had a quiet 2020 as she elected to stay at home instead of travelling overseas to compete. With little to defend in 2021, Aiava will look to play free and relaxed tennis – and the results will subsequently follow.
She will hope to reach the second round of the event for the first time in 2021.
Sumit Nagal (INDIA, World No 137)
Nagal was selected as the tournament’s Asia-Pacific wildcard. This will be Nagal’s first Australian Open main draw after falling in the first round of qualifying last year.
The Indian did in fact make the second round of this year’s U.S. Open, and took a set off Federer in 2019 at the same tournament, proving he is by no means a walkover.
Wang Xiyu (CHINA, World No 123)
Xiyu is the other recipient of the Asia-Pacific wildcard. Xiyu has limited Grand Slam experience with only one appearance at the majors (2019 U.S. Open).
The 19-year-old did in fact, however, win Wimbledon Juniors in 2018. Xiyu is a dangerous threat in a very open women’s field – don’t be surprised if she causes a few upsets.
There is still one wildcard on both the men’s and women’s sides of the draw to be handed out before the tournament begins on February 8.