‘I am not liked’: Top-ranked Aussie woman says decision not to give her an AO wildcard feels personal

Australia’s top-ranked women’s tennis player has missed out on a spot at the Australian Open, and she says Tennis Australia will be celebrating after not handing her a wildcard.

Wildcards at grand slam tournaments are reserved for players not ranked high enough to qualify automatically for the 128-strong singles field but a selection panel hands them a spot in the main draw.

It is often used for veterans who have slipped in the rankings or young rising stars to give them a taste of top-flight competition in front of home fans.

Russian-born Arina Rodionova, at 105 in the world, is Australia’s number one woman on the rankings, but the local wildcard spots were handed to Kimberly Birrell (117), Olivia Gadecki (121), Daria Saville (195) and Taylah Preston (203).

Rodionova said she was not surprised when the wildcards were revealed last week and was ready to go through qualifying, but she ended up losing to French world number 145 Leolia Jeanjean in the first round.

According to News Corp, Rodionova said she “absolutely” felt the decision was personal and stemmed from “so many incidents that happened between myself and people in charge” from “years and years ago”.

“The only regret I have from today is I think I gave Tennis Australia something to celebrate … I think they’re very pleased with my result today, and that’s what makes me upset,” she said after her qualifying loss.

“It is very clear to me that I am not liked, and it’s not just clear to me, it’s clear to every single Australian tennis player.”

Australia’s men’s former world number 33 John Millman told the ABC Tennis Podcast the decision was “a bit of a shambles”.

“You can’t be Australia’s top-ranked player in female tennis and be overlooked,” he said.

“I am a bit baffled. I think she should have been one of the first names given an opportunity.”

At 18 and 21 respectively, Gadecki and Preston are rising stars, while 25-year-old Birrell reached the Australian Open third round in 2019 and Saville, 29, has a career-high ranking of 20 and has twice reached the round of 16 in Melbourne (2016 and ’17).


Rodionova is 34 and her best result in the singles at any major since making her main-draw debut at the 2011 Australian Open is the second round.

She is aiming to break into the top 100 for the first time and took down 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin at the Brisbane International last week.

But, when the wildcards were finalised last week, Rodionova’s name was nowhere to be found.

In addition to the four Australians, 2018 champion Caroline Wozniacki also nabbed a wildcard, with Mai Hontama handed the spot for players from elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific, while veteran Alize Cornet and McCartney Kessler got the wildcard reserved for French and US players respectively.

On the men’s side, the Australian wildcards are James Duckworth, Marc Polmans, Adam Walton, Jason Kubler and James McCabe, with China’s Juncheng Shang (Asia-Pacific), Patrick Kypson (US) and Arthur Cazaux (FRA) rounding out the list.

Millman, who is retiring after the Australian Open, said he was not expecting a wildcard into the men’s draw to enjoy a swansong in front of local fans.

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