Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Where Is The Wildcard For Awesome?

Dear Tennis Australia and all ye in charge of giving out wildcards -

I get it, OK? You want to give your discretionary wildcards to Australians. You want to support homegrown tennis and build a Davis Cup team and whatever. I totally understand.

But it doesn't mean I have to like it. And while you may have done a service to Australian tennis (such as it can be said to be), you have done a disservice to tennis overall. Because - as you have heard very loudly over the last few days - the tennis community has been pushing hard for one thing. One wildcard.

We wanted a wildcard for Nicolas Mahut.

I know he's not Australian. I know he's not exactly an up-and-comer. I know he's not going to play Davis Cup for you. But what he is is PURE 100% AWESOME. And we wanted him to have a chance.

Tennis is gladiatorial. Mahut is a gladiator. He played an eleven hour match - how many of your other wildcard contenders could claim to have the legs to do that?

Tennis is entertainment. Um, were you watching the Hopman Cup? Mahut put on a dress and walked out there and entertained his heart out. You want tennis to be watched? You want tennis to be popular? You want to encourage kids to pick up a racquet? You want to entertain them. You need a showman. In short, you need someone like Mahut.

Wildcards are for those who might do something with them. Two words: Hopman Cup. Mahut beat Potito Starace, ranked almost a hundred places higher than him, and pushed Andy Murray very, VERY hard. You want someone who might actually win a match or two? How about Mahut?

Wildcards are for those who deserve to catch a break, who deserve a shot. Look at Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin. Clijsters got a wildcard to the US Open in 2009, Henin to the Australian Open in 2010. Both players who needed a chance. And look how that turned out. Now, I'm not saying that Mahut would have gone on and won the Open if he'd been given a wildcard. But honestly, what more does he need to do? This one is on his own tennis federation as well - Rufin in the US, Paire here... why does Mahut get NO recognition?

There is a reciprocal wildcard arrangement with France and with the US. A wildcard is given to Asia, in the spirit of the Australian Open being the Grand Slam of the Asia Pacific. One is given to the winner of the Australian Open playoff. And four are discretionary. Paire. Harrison. Devvarman. Matosevic. Ebden. Luczak. And, as of yesterday, Ball and Tomic.

It would be very, very easy for me to take potshots at Ball and Tomic - Tomic in particular. But it's been done and it's been done eloquently, and so I will refrain. (Except to say that, REALLY, Tennis Australia, you thought it would be a better idea to give a wildcard to a kid who complained that his centre court match went on past his bedtime than to a man that played eleven hours without complaining?) Instead, I have an alternative proposal.

I propose that every year, one of the discretionary wildcards is set aside to be the Wildcard For Awesome.

This is the wildcard that does not care about some kind of Davis Cup developlement ideal, that's not dangled above the head of misbehaving youngsters like some kind of delicious biscuit. This is the wildcard for someone who has proved, time and time again, that they are awesome. Maybe they... I don't know, have been injured and don't qualify for protected ranking. Maybe they've had a bad season and are on their way back. Maybe they're just very entertaining and obvious fan favourites. Maybe they played a GODDAMN ELEVEN HOUR TENNIS MATCH and survived.

There is only one criterion - that the recipient of this wildcard be AWESOME.

I have very much enjoyed being the captain of the Good Ship #wildcardformahut - which has now become #supportmahut. As I write this, Mahut has just won his first qualifying match - a 6-0 6-1 win in about 45 minutes. He is well on his way to the main draw - one down, two to go. I'd much rather he didn't have to go through this qualifying rigmarole, but now that he has to, he has started off his campaign with style.

I am sad that #wildcardformahut didn't work, but one thing it did do was draw the attention of the tennis community to a player who really is genuinely 100% awesome - as a player, as an entertainer, and as an all round cool dude. Nicolas Mahut, there is a whole bunch of people out here who think you are basically the Lord of Awesome. And even though we didn't succeed in getting you a wildcard into the main draw, I hope some ripple of the #wildcardformahut campaign reaches you - because we want you to know just how awesome we think you are.

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