How the wildcards have done at the Queens Club

May 15, 2018

The Queen's Club has produced some memorable tournaments down the years and its roll of honour is almost a who's who of men's tennis. Winners of the tournament have included superstars like John McEnroe, Boris Becker, Pete Sampras, Rafael Nadal and the most prolific winner of all, five-time champion Andy Murray. 

It should be no different this summer, when the tournament is known as the Fever-Tree Championships for the first time. 

With the event now an ATP 500 tournament, the field will be as star-studded as ever this year. Murray will be back and Nadal is also due to play. Other top competitors include Stan Wawrinka, Marin Cilic, Grigor Dimitrov, tournament holder Feliciano Lopez and the rising star of British tennis, world number 23 and current British number one Kyle Edmund.

However, while Edmund will be among the star attractions after reaching his first Grand Slam semi-final in Australia and then his first ATP final in Marrakesh, it wasn't always this way for the Yorkshireman.

As a youngster of raw potential he has been among a number of lower-ranked Britons who have gained wildcards to the draw in recent years, offering the home crowd a chance to support more British players and potentially see a home-grown star in the making. In the case of those who have seen Edmund in action, that appears to now be reaching fulfilment.

Generally speaking, wildcards add a little extra interest in the early stages of a tournament before bowing out and leaving the field to the star men, who are seeking to hit top form before the Championships, Wimbledon.

Wildcards are usually used to bring in more British players, permit an entry by a big name who has not qualified in the normal way, and promote rising stars. There are plenty of examples of these at Queen's down the years.

Dimitrov epitomises the way wildcards are used to promote the emerging youngsters, getting wildcards in successive years as a teenager at the start of a career that has seen him regularly feature in the top ten - and win the 2014 title at the Queen's Club.

He is in good company. Other rising stars include Cilic in 2007, when he reached the quarter finals aged 18. His brilliant run included wins over Tim Henman and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Among big names given a late-career appearance, Andre Agassi was a prime example when he appeared in 2000. The then tournament director Ian Wright memorably remarked: "I'm absolutely thrilled. I feel like the bloke in the sixth form who keeps asking the same girl out and eventually she says 'yes'."

Agassi then came back a few more times, reaching the semi-finals in 2003. Other big names given late-career wildcards include Lleyton Hewitt in 2015, a decision tournament director Stephen Farrow said took "about two seconds" to make.

Helping a player whose ranking has fallen because of injuries, especially a youngster or a Briton, is another way wildcards are used. Last year, for example, James Ward and Thanasi Kokkinakis were brought into the event in this way. Farrow said: "James and Thanasi have had a difficult time with injuries over the last year or two and we are delighted to give them a chance to play."

So while the main attention will be on the Grand Slam-winning star names, fans enjoying the Fever-Tree Championships will have plenty of good reasons to keep an eye on this year's wildcards.

Image: Ben Hoskins/Getty Images from Keith Prowse subscription

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