Tennis Australia's decision to hand Daria Saville a wildcard over Arina Rodionova for the Australian Open didn't exactly pay off on Monday, with Saville bowing out in a first round loss. Rodionova, who is Australia's highest-ranked women's player, was left fuming when she was overlooked for a wildcard into the main draw of the grand slam.
Saville, currently ranked 131st due to a string of recent injuries, was given a wildcard instead. Rodionova was forced to go through qualifying if she wanted to make the main draw, but lost in the first round.
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The controversy was thrust back into the spotlight on Monday when Saville went down 6-7 (7-5) 6-3 7-5 to World No.69 Magdalena Frech. Saville managed to save four match points but her serving ultimately cost her a chance at victory, despite some impressive form in the lead-up to the Open.
The 29-year-old Australian looked down and out in the third set when she was trailing 2-5. But she managed to save a match point while serving at 30-40 and then broke her opponent, before levelling at 5-5. But her Polish opponent ultimately proved too consistent, with Saville dropping her serve at the worst time before Frech sealed the win.
Saville served 14 double faults, including three consecutive doubles in one service game early in the second set. She also had 62 unforced errors compared to Frech's 38.
"I'm disappointed with the result, disappointed with my performance as well," Saville said. "The best thing I can be positive about is the way I fought in the third, so no regrets there but overall I didn't play my best tennis - I didn't play as well as I was playing in Hobart or Brisbane."
But Saville took some positives from the match - most notably her ability to compete on the big stage for three hours and 10 minutes. "I'm close - there are glimpses of me being there already," she said.
"There were glimpses of me playing really good tennis in Hobart (where she made the semi-finals) and even today there were moments were I played really well. The fact I can play a three-hour match, it's all really promising."
Arina Rodionova lashes out over Australian Open snub
Saville's loss will do nothing to improve the mood of Rodionova, who claimed a personal vendetta was behind the decision to overlook her for a wildcard. The 34-year-old battled back from a serious wrist injury to dominate the lower-level ITF Tour in 2023, winning 78 matches on her way to seven titles.
She improved her ranking from No.302 to 104 in the process, but it counted for nothing when the wildcards were handed out. "The only regrets I have from today is just I gave Tennis Australia something to celebrate," Rodionova said after her 6-3 6-4 loss to Leolia Jeanjean in qualifying. "I think they are very pleased with my result today and that's what makes me upset."
She added: "There are so many things and instances that happened between myself and people in charge of, like, the head of women's tennis and other people in Tennis Australia. There were just so many things behind the scenes that it is very clear to me that I'm not liked.
"And it's not just clear to me, it's clear to every single Australian tennis player and everyone. It's not exactly a secret, everyone knows it and now it's kind of funny that basically by making this decision they decided to make it public as well."
Frech 🇵🇱 defeats Saville 🇦🇺 7-5 in the 3rd to progress at the Australian Open.
The Wildcards not getting the wins , only Kessler 🇺🇸 has won so far.
Rodionova 🇦🇺 really should have got one
— Chris Goldsmith (@TheTennisTalker) January 15, 2024
— Stuart Fraser (@stu_fraser) January 9, 2024
I'm still baffled that Arina Rodionova didn't receive a wildcard to the Australian Open.
Unfortunately, she lost in the first round of qualifying today.
— Biola Solace-Chukwu (@Beeorlicious) January 9, 2024
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