Two more Australian Open 2014 wildcards were snapped up on the weekend after Casey Dellacqua and Jordan Thompson triumphed in the finals of the AO Play-off as part of the annual December Showdown at Melbourne Park.
Dellacqua lived up to her top-seeded billing, recovering from the loss of the opening set against No.3 seed Arina Rodionova to storm to a 5-7 6-1 6-0 victory.
The win took Dellacqua’s winning streak to 14 matches – after back-to-back titles at Bendigo Pro Tour events in October and November – and sees her in fine form heading into her 11th Australian Open main draw.
“Even back in ’08 when I had my highest ranking (No.39), I probably feel like I’m a better player now,” she said.
“It does feel like another career for me in a way… and things have changed. I’m just happy that I’m healthy. I’m happy that my body’s going really well. I’m happy that I can train and do the things that I need to do to play at this level and I’ve had a great 2013.”
Dellacqua, now aged 28 and currently ranked 142nd, was given a huge injection of confidence after clinching a wildcard that many people had expected her to win, and against young opponents who had nothing to lose against a more experienced and credentialed player.
“I do feel like I deserve to be in the Australian Open,” she stated.
“I’d rather do it this way and win the wildcard than to ever expect anything or be guaranteed anything, so I’m stoked that I won.”
Thrilled, too, was Thompson, a rapidly-improving 19-year-old Sydneysider who until the final against defending AO Play-off champion Ben Mitchell had yet to play a five-set match.
But he came through such a test with flying colours, re-focusing after letting slip a two-sets-to-love lead to romp to a 6-3 6-2 4-6 4-6 6-1 victory.
The win sends him through to the main draw of a Grand Slam for the first time in his fledgling career, and sets up a potential first round match against an idol like Lleyton Hewitt or Rafaael Nadal.
“I think the start of the fifth (set) was some of the best tennis I’ve ever played,” he reflected after securing his wildcard.
“It is an unbelievable feeling to be in the main draw of the Australian Open. I never thought it would come at age 19.
Thompson has enjoyed a stellar year in 2013. In January, he debuted on the ATP rankings at No.1004, but now sits at No.318 after a season in which he won his first professional titles at ITF Futures events in Bad Waltersdorf, Austria and on home soil in Alice Springs.
December Showdown unearths young talent
Several emerging players could soon join Thompson in making a successful transition to the professional ranks.
For running alongside the Australian Open Play-off – the headline event of the December Showdown – were the Australian Championships in 18/u, 16/u, 14/u and 12/u age-groups.
Bradley Mousley and Maddison Inglis – the latter just 15 years of age – captured the coveted 18/u titles, granting them entry into the AO Play-off draws and signifying bright futures as they begin to increasingly focus on older age-groups and competing on the ITF circuit.
Also adding their names to the national honour rolls were 16/u champions Max Purcell and Anja Dokic, 14/u winners Alex De Minaur and Jaimee Fourlis, and youngsters Valentina Ivanov and Xin Mu Zhouin in the 12/u event.
Wildcards being snapped up
With Dellacqua and Thompson joining Asia-Pacific Australian Open Wildcard Play-off winners Wu Di and Tang Hao Chen (both of China), there remain just six main draw wildcards available in both the men’s and women’s draws for the year’s first Grand Slam event.
In both draws, two wildcards are reserved for French and American players as part of reciprocal deal between Tennis Australia and the French and United States tennis federations.
That leaves four discretionary wildcards to be awarded, which Tennis Australia will announce in the coming weeks.