A lot has been made of the Montreal Rogers Cup wildcard decisions this week. Much like last year when Ana Ivanovic was shunned in favour of local lowly Canadian players, the Rogers Cup organizers once again decided to hand the vast majority of their wildcards to low-ranked local players. This time, the flavours of the week were 155-ranked Vasek Pospsil and world number 290 Erik Chvojka, and the jokes and criticism came thick and fast.
Some jokingly questioned whether anyone with a Canadian passport would be considered for a wildcard, while John Wertheim suggested that the likes of John Isner and Ernests Gulbis should have been considered before announced his belief that there should should be a rankings cap on wildcards.
Two days later, those who were sceptical were, in a way, silenced as wildcarded Canadian Vasek Pospisil pulled off an inspired victory over Juan Ignacio Chela, fighting injury and a 2-4 third set deficit to win through and book a second round match with Roger Federer.
And that’s exactly what wildcards are about.
They aren’t about handing over a free spot in the draw to the next player in line - they’re about providing opportunities. And though he is ranked far lower than all players in the draw, the 21 year-old was given a chance to rise to the challenge of playing in one of the great tournaments in tennis and he did so admirably.
His reward will be a date with Roger Federer in tomorrow’s night match, undoubtedly in front of a packed crowd all cheering their boy on. There is no doubt whatsoever that he will lose it, probably handily, but he’s a talented player and this week will undoubtedly arm him with both the confidence and hunger to make sure that competing in these big tournaments becomes the rule and not the exception. And as far as those who granted him the wildcard are concerned, that’s a mission accomplished.
Incidentally, there is a case of abusing and wasting wildcards present in the Rogers Cup draw. This case regarding Bernard Tomic. There’s no doubt that Mr Tomic is extremely talented and will undoubtedly rise to the top echelons of the game in years to come (though his prediction that he will win a slam within two years remains arrogant and delusional), but the fact that he has been handed a grand total of 11 wildcards in his 14 events in 2011 is a big problem and exploitation of a gaping hole in the ATP rulebook.
It means that Tomic hasn’t had to work hard, and rather than building up his ranking in qualifying and lowly challengers like most, it has all essentially been handed to him on a platter. Indeed, he is said to have withdrawn from the Legg Mason Washington event because the tournament had the audacity not to give him a wildcard and he would have had to face the indignation of playing in qualifying.
One thing’s for sure - if, in a few years, there comes to be any question over his commitment and work rate when he is contesting for the big tournaments, we’ll know exactly where it all went wrong.